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Common scams

Don't get caught out by a scam. Find out how to spot them and what you can do to avoid them

Authorised push payment (APP) scams

Authorised push payment (APP) scams happen when criminals persuade you to make a bank transfer. They'll usually pretend to be from a reputable business or organisation and try to pressure you into acting quickly. This is so you don't have time to realise it's a scam. 

We were among the first banks to sign up to a voluntary code to combat APP scams.

To help protect yourself, find out more about typical APP scams and the warning signs to watch out for.

Purchase scams

Purchase scams happen when you’re paying for an item or service. The item doesn't arrive, or you don't receive the service and your money is lost.

Typically, these scams:

  • ask you to send money via bank transfer rather than using a card or cheque
  • offer a too-good-to-be-true deal or discount
  • have 'limited availability', or are a 'special offer' to encourage you to act quickly
  • persuade you to send money before receiving a service
  • are advertised on social media or other online marketplaces, or in some cases through legitimate looking websites that have actually been set up by fraudsters


Remember to:

  • use safe sites when shopping online
  • use safe ways to pay, such as your debit or credit card 
  • check the returns and cancellations policy
  • research the retailer online to make sure they’re legitimate
  • stop and think - would you be willing to send cash in the post for an item you've ordered?
  • research and check the validity of the item before paying - ask to see it if possible
  • approach an independent professional to authenticate the goods or services you're purchasing


Read our real-life case study of how one HSBC customer lost almost £1,000 to a purchase scam.

Investment scams

Criminals may contact you with investment opportunities offering guaranteed, or very high, returns. 

They'll usually cold call you, and in order to convince you, use false testimonials or fake celebrity endorsements. They may set up spoof websites and fake companies that have similar (or the same) names as genuine investment organisations.

They can produce convincing marketing materials and might refer to current news to make the opportunity seem realistic.

If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Cryptocurrency scams

Cryptocurrency is a digital asset that can be traded or exchanged online. 

It's unregulated, highly speculative and there's no investor protection.

Cryptocurrency has increased in popularity over the last few years, with some people seeing high returns on investments.

However, criminals are using this as an opportunity to steal your money.


They may do this by:

  • contacting you by phone or on social media platforms
  • advertising fake investments that don’t really exist or have falsely advertise high returns
  • convincing you to sign up with a cryptocurrency provider with your identity documents to open a trading account or online wallet
  • persuading you to invest and set up fake but realistic-looking websites and portfolios


Remember to:

  • check how it works - it may differ from a traditional investment
  • stay in control - never let anyone set up a cryptocurrency wallet, upload ID documents or manage investments for you
  • don't share access - fraudsters may ask you to download software so they can access your devices and move money without your knowledge
  • spot familiar tricks - you may be asked to move money and asked to mislead your bank about the reason for making the payment. Fraudsters know payments for investments may attract more scrutiny and will try to avoid it
  • don't fall for fake endorsements - fraudsters may impersonate famous personalities on social media or messaging groups, to make their offer look legitimate
  • don't be pressured - high value cases even give a return in the short term, to convince you to invest more. Then, after larger payments are sent, you suffer even greater losses

You can find out more about cryptocurrency and read a real-life case study on our cryptocurrency fraud page.

Romance scams

This type of scam begins with a fast-moving, online relationship.

The scammer will usually use a fake picture and profile. They'll then come up with reasons they can't meet in person, for example saying they're in the armed forces or they work overseas.

They’ll go to great lengths to build a rapport and form an emotional bond, then they'll appeal to you for money, perhaps for travel, or some kind of emergency. 

To avoid falling victim to one of these scams, never send money to someone you’ve only met online. And don’t agree to send money on their behalf, as it could be the proceeds of crime.

Find out how to avoid romance scams.

Read a recent case study of how one woman was conned out of £100,000.

Payment diversion scams

Criminals can hack and monitor your emails, and when payments are due, they’ll send their own email that looks like a genuine message from a real company.

They'll tell you that the bank details for your payment have changed, and give you the new details to send your payments to. This could be a house deposit to your solicitor, or a payment to a contractor for home improvements, for example.

If you're contacted about a change of payment details, always: 

  • call the company on a number you're sure is genuine to confirm
  • check for poor spelling and grammar within the email – this usually signals a scam
  • check the sender's email address is correct

Money mules

Scammers prey on those who are low on funds to act as ‘money mules’. This means you allow money to be transferred through your bank account in exchange for payment. 

Hard-up students are often targeted, with job adverts and spam emails offering ‘easy money’. You’ll be asked to provide your bank details, receive a payment into your account and then either withdraw it in cash, or transfer it to another account.

It might seem like a harmless way to increase your income, but the money being transferred is stolen and used to fund organised crime.

This can get you into serious trouble. If you’re caught, you could get up to 14 years in prison. Your bank accounts will be closed, you’ll have problems applying for a loan, a mortgage or even a mobile phone contract. 

To learn more about the consequences of becoming a money mule and what the proceeds of money laundering are used for, check out the Don’t Be Fooled website

Pension scams

A scammer may offer to move your pension to a new scheme which allows you access to the funds before the legal age of 55.

To avoid suspicion they'll tell you not to explain to your existing pension provider why you're moving the money.

Victims of these scams are usually asked to pay a very high fee and may also face serious tax consequences.

Be wary of scams like this and, if in doubt, seek advice from registered pension providers.

Remember to:

  • check the Financial Services Register to confirm the investment company is authorised, and to look for verified contact details
  • make sure you’re speaking to a real representative of the company and not an imposter. Visit the FCA website to check cloned firms and individuals, or contact the company on an independently verified number or email address to confirm
  • search for the firm or company you’re dealing with on the FCA Warning List 
  • research – if you’re entering into a cryptocurrency investment, make sure you understand how everything works
  • seek advice from a financial advisor

Holiday scams

A website, advert, email, social media post or text promising a great holiday could be a scam. 

Either the holiday doesn’t exist – or it does exist, but it's being sold to you by a criminal.

You might not realise you’ve been scammed until the flight tickets don’t arrive, or you turn up at the resort, airport or cruise terminal only to find you’ve lost your money.

QR code scams

A QR code is a type of barcode that stores information as a series of pixels in a square-shaped grid. It can be read quickly and easily by digital devices like your mobile phone.

As the use of QR codes increases, criminals are creating counterfeit codes which lead to fake websites or download malicious software to your device. This can lead to you handing your personal or financial details over to a fraudster. 

Most smartphone cameras will provide a preview of a QR code's link as you start to scan it. If the URL looks suspicious or isn't what you expected, don't tap on the link.

QR codes are intended to be a convenient way of finding information and in many cases are. However, if you’re unsure, go directly to the official website or app instead.

Coronavirus scams

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started in 2020, fraudsters have tried to use it an opportunity for financial crime.

They're still doing this by posing as trusted organisations like the NHS, banks and even the World Health Organisation. 

Find out more about the different types of coronavirus scams.

Explore more


New scams emerge all the time. Stay in the loop with our frequently updated list.


Learn more about the different types of fraud and what you can do to protect yourself.


Find out how criminals typically get in touch, and what you should do if you're targeted.

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