Avoiding fraud and scams: help from the ombudsman

Weve put together some detail on how you can protect your information online, as well as what to do if you think you have been scammed.

Be aware of fraud and scams

As technology has developed and evolved the ways in which scammers try to target people has developed with it. From fake websites to text messages that appear to be from a legitimate source, scammers will try a variety of ways to get personal information from you, in order to take money from your accounts, use the details you share to pretend to be you, or to sell on. As well as use of technology, we also see  scammers trying to manipulate or exploit situations to build trust or create panic, to try to get people to divulge information over the phone, and sometimes even face to face.

We see a wide variety of circumstances in the complaints that are referred to us, and so we regularly share insight about the complaints we see – through our website and our regular newsletter, ombudsman news – as an important part of our work to help prevent complaints arising in the first place. And it isn't just related to banking - we know that fraudsters also look to target pensions, investments and insurances too. The industry regulator, the FCA, has information on its website about avoiding investment and pension scams, and the Association of British Insurers has produced some tips to avoid insurance related scams.

It’s particularly important to be vigilant at the moment, as a major event like the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, can lead to new types of scams emerging. Action Fraud, the UK’s reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime, has recently reported an increase in Covid-19 related fraud and scams.

There are steps you can take to help keep your personal information safe, at any time. We've put together some detail on how you can protect your information, as well as what to do if you think you have been scammed, and how we can help if you've complained and don't think you've been treated fairly. If you've already made a complaint to us about a fraud or scam, you can also read more about the approach we take to the complaints we see

Help keep your personal information safe

  • Create strong, randomised passwords that aren't the same for multiple accounts
  • Research a company, product or service you haven't used previously, before making a purchase
  • Reject offers that come out of the blue, or deals that seem too good to be true
  • Keep evidence of online purchases, such as emailed receipts and confirmations of orders
  • Call your bank or credit provider straight away if you suspect money has gone missing from your account
  • If you've been a victim of a scam, report it to the police
  • Report any possible scams to Action Fraud

What not to do

  • Don't give out personal information over the phone, especially if you don't know the caller. The police, your bank or HMRC will never cold-call you and ask for bank details.
  • Don't click links in emails and texts that look suspicious or if you don't know the sender
  • Don't use the same password for multiple apps or accounts - especially if these have your bank details added
  • Don't give personal details to someone who's turned up to your home unannounced
  • Don't feel rushed or pressurised into a decision or course of action
  • If you think you've been scammed, don't keep it to yourself - act straight away
  • Don't be afraid to ask a friend or relative for advice if you're not sure something is legitimate


Some recent examples

Free school meals

We've seen reports about scam emails about free school meals, the email asks parents to click a link and give their bank details in order to make sure their children keep receiving free school meals. The Department for Education has confirmed this is not an official email and is a scam, so if you receive an email like this, do not click any of the links and report it to Action Fraud. 

Covid-19 cash sums

With the recent Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, there have been reports of suspicious text messages that claim to be from the government. These messages mention a cash sum that will be awarded, or a fine that will be charged. They also include a link to check a 'gov.uk' account - these are fake. The Cabinet Office's official channels have confirmed that they have only sent one text message, to inform the public to stay at home. If you are worried about any message you receive claiming to be from the government, check their official messaging on their website or on social media. 

Requests for donations

A link to a donation page is sent out by email. People are asked to click on the link which goes to a fake charity donation page, asking for contributions towards funding a cure for Covid-19. The page has been set up by scammers, attempting to capture bank details.  Always question unsolicited requests for your personal or financial information. Never automatically follow or click on a link in an unexpected email or text message.

Video conferencing downloads

There have been reports of emails containing links to fake pages for video conferencing tools, asking you to install software. The links take you to a log-in page set up by scammers, with the intention of capturing your personal details and asking you to download malicious software. Only download software from official websites.

Fake "test and trace" calls

There have been reports of fraudsters posing as contact tracers from the official government scheme, contacting people by phone or messages asking for money to cover the costs of Covid-19 testing kits. Official tracers will never ask for payments of any kind or for your bank details.

The ways scammers work

Email and online scams

Online fraud and scams come in many forms, including fake websites, scammers taking over your account, malware and computer viruses and fake online trading platforms. Another way scammers to try and get hold of your personal information is through emails that look like they come from a legitimate source, like a large and well-known company, or government department. The email will generally ask you to click a link or download an attachment, but these will often carry viruses or take you to fake websites to try and trick you into giving out personal details.

It’s important to make sure that you’re taking the proper precautions when you’re online and sharing your personal information, whether it’s by email or on websites or for an online purchase.

What to look out for

  • Pay close attention to how you’ve been addressed in the email. Scams will often not get your name or title quite right, or may not address you personally at all. 
  • Where the email is coming from. At first glance, the name of the sender might look like a company you recognise, but double check the email address it’s been sent from. Scam messages won’t be able to use real domains (like '[email protected]') and instead will often use misspelled or random email addresses. Make sure you check the sender is who you think it is – even if it joins an existing message thread you know to be authentic.  Don't be afraid to double-check and call the company directly.
  • Don’t click on a link if you think it’s suspicious. If the email talks about a problem with an account, go to the company or organisation website directly and log into your account to check. Don't rely on the link provided if you're suspicious. 
  • Secure websites. If you’re making an online purchase, check that the website is a secure one with the padlock icon in the web address bar or https:// in the address bar. These aren’t always guarantees, but are a good starting point
  • Pop ups. Messages online asking you to give out personal information unprompted can sometimes come up, so the best thing to do is close the window and not input any personal information. You can also activate 'pop-up blockers' on your web browser to help with this, although this can sometimes prevent certain applications from working

On social media

Many of us share information about ourselves on social media to connect with family, friends and people across the world. But this can create opportunities for scammers to access to your personal information. This could be through using the information you  share on your social media accounts - or using social media to advertise or offer products and services that aren’t legitimate.

What to look out for

  • Suspicious direct messages or posts to your feeds. These could be from friends or contacts, offering deals or products that don’t seem realistic, with a link to a website or to sign up. Often these link to fake websites which ask you to input your personal information.
  • People selling tickets to events (like concerts, festivals or shows) that seem too good to be true. It may turn out that the tickets are fake, or never arrive. 
  • Adverts on social media. Many fake adverts will include testimonials from customers who don’t exist, and unproven or false claims about a product’s effectiveness. If you’re unsure about a product, do some further research to make sure that the information they’re telling you is correct.
  • Your privacy settings. When you sign up to a social media account, they'll ask you to provide certain key pieces of information. But it's worth revisiting your privacy settings on a regular basis to make sure that you're only sharing your information with the people you want to see it. Strong privacy settings means that you can limit what advertisers and scammers can see about you. 

In person or on the phone

Scammers don't always work from behind a computer screen - there are many people who have been scammed on the phone or even at their own front door. 

What to look out for 

  • Don’t get pressured into signing up, buying or giving out information if you don’t feel comfortable. Scammers will try and make you feel like you’re going to miss out on something if you don’t get it now, or use phrases like ‘time-limited’ or ‘time-sensitive’ to pressure you into revealing information. They’ll also be very insistent on getting this information from you without giving any real reason for it.
  • Identification. Just because someone has identification with them, it doesn’t mean that they are who they say they are. Don’t allow anyone you don't know to come into your home if they turn up unannounced. Feel confident it telling them that you’re not interested and close the door. If you notice that they’re doing this to neighbours, call the police to let them know.
  • Deals and offers that come out of the blue. Scammers will often call about offers that aren’t relevant to you or aren’t something that you’ve asked for. This could range from pension reviews, computer software issues or investigating an ‘accident’ you’ve been in. If you’ve not requested this information first, tell the caller you’re not interested and hang up.
  • Double check phone numbers. Just because the telephone number appears to be the same as your bank’s or any other institution, don’t assume it is. Put the phone down then call them directly

Romance scams

Romance scams

Romance scams involve a scammer making their victim believe that they have a genuine romantic relationship in order to trick them into giving them money or personal information. This type of scam is often under-reported. Victims can feel embarrassed about the situation and worry about the level of intrusion into their privacy. There's also often large sums of money involved.

What happens

Victims of this type of fraud may have joined an online dating service and been contacted by someone displaying interest in them. We've also seen complaints where victims were first contacted by scammers through social media (like Facebook or Instagram), messaging services (like WhatsApp) and online games. A relationship develops and the scammer will try to gain the victim's trust as quickly as they can. At some point the victim will be asked for money by the scammer to help pay for something - sometimes this is travel or visa application costs so they can meet in person, or money for a family member or close friend who is severely ill and needs treatment. 

At first, the money is sent in good faith as there seems to be a real relationship, but then the scammer will come back with more requests for money. Sometimes the tone of the conversation might change into something more threatening. Scammers will often put pressure onto the victim to continue and may use things said or sent during the relationship as a form of emotional blackmail. 

From what we've seen, people only realise about the scam once the money has run out, or when there's been a lack of contact from the scammer after money's been sent. We've seen complaints where victims have sent the scammer over £100,000. When consumers have brought a complaint about this type of scam, it's often because they feel that their bank should have done more to protect them or that the bank has refused to repay the money as the consumer authorised the transactions. Sometimes it's not the victim who contacts us, because of the impact it's had on the victim, or because the victim is vulnerable in some way. 

What to look out for 

  • Trust your instincts - if something feels wrong when you're talking to someone, it most likely is. Be confident and break off contact with that person. You can give  a brief explanation if you want, but you don't have to. 
  • Is the picture real? - if someone's profile picture looks a little too perfect, do a reverse image search online to make sure it's not a stock photo, a photo of a model, celebrity or online influencer. 
  • Protect your personal information - don't feel like you have to tell the other person every detail of your life immediately. Build up trust slowly, keep your details safe and secure and only reveal what they need to know. If you let someone know your full name, address and date of birth, this can be used to steal your identity. 
  • Unbalanced conversations - scammers will often try to find out as much information about you as possible and as quickly as they can, and not really reveal much about themselves. This is so they can find the best way to target you and get the information they want or get you to sympathise and give your money to them. 
  • Sending money overseas - if you're sending money to someone overseas there can be less protection if you do find out you're a scam victim, so if you're concerned about this, speak to your bank or use a trusted money transfer service. 

What to do if you think you've been scammed 

If you think you have been scammed, you need to act as soon as possible. Call the police and tell them what's happened - they'll often ask you to report it to Action Fraud as well. 

If money has been taken out of your account, call your bank and get them to freeze or lock your account. This will help stop any more money coming out of your account. 

How we can help

Making a complaint

If you have been the victim of a scam, and you're unhappy with how your bank or finance provider has responded to your complaint, we may be able to help. Our service is free to use, and you can easily submit your complaint online using our online forms, or contact us via social media or over the phone.


How to complain 

What we look at

Find out about the types of fraud and scam complaints we see, and our approach to resolving them.  

Information for consumers 

Information for businesses

If you're a business, we have information about our approach to resolving complaints about fraud and scams.

Information for businesses 

Ombudsman News

Our regular newsletter for people interested in financial complaints, and how to settle or prevent them.