Four ways to avoid being scammed

Do you think you're too smart to fall for a scam? Well one in eleven of us has, according to the Office of Fair Trading. Here are four ways to avoid becoming a victim.

I'm planning to make several million pounds today.

All I have to do is give my bank details to a Nigerian heiress who needs help getting a small fortune out of the country, confirm my bank details with HM Revenue & Customs so they can give me a rebate, and give my bank details to a company who says I've won a lesser-known European lottery. Easy.

You will, of course, have spotted that I'm not actually going to make a penny out of any of these: they are all common scams used to part us from our money. You might think you wouldn't ever be dim enough to fall for this kind of thing, but one in eleven of us has done so according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). Worse, a third of those who responded went on to lose money. And we aren't talking small amounts - £2.6bn was stolen online from UK customers in the last year, according to Financial Fraud Action UK.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

So what can you do to minimise the chances of becoming a victim yourself?

1. Don't respond to unsolicited approaches

If you get an email, or phone call, or letter offering you something that seems too good to be true, it probably is. If it is an unsolicited approach, then the safest bet is to ignore it. If the approach appears to be from your bank or another official body you know you have dealings with, then call them back on a telephone number you trust, just to be sure.

One of the most popular forms of scam is "phishing." This is where you receive an email from fraudsters pretending to be your bank. The email will look official - it may include your bank's logo and give a return email address that looks genuine. It will then usually warn you that for some reason your bank needs you to update your details with them. You will be given a link to click on to do that. But the link won't take you to your bank: instead it will take you to a fake website where any details you supply will be collected by fraudsters and used to access - and clean out - your account.

Avoid becoming a phishing victim by not clicking on the link. If there is a problem with your bank account your bank is unlikely to email they'll call you instead.

2. Guard your details carefully

Account takeover is on the rise according to fraud experts CPP. This is where criminals impersonate you in order to take over your bank account. Protect yourself by making sure you destroy unwanted bank statements, receipts and any other documents containing your financial details. A shredder is well worth buying to help with this.

Also, check your credit history at least once a year for unexplained applications. allows you to check your credit report once a yearin return for a one-off £2.50 payment for setting up your account. Otherwise, you can pay a subscription with Experian or Equifax and you can opt to be alerted every time a credit application is made in your name.

Enjoying this article? Sign up for our free weekly email, MoneyWeek Saver, to receive free weekly personal finance tips and insight direct to your inbox from our expert, Ruth Jackson. Sign up to MoneyWeek Saver here.

3. Minimise your potential losses

Make yourself less of a target for fraudsters by minimising how much credit they can get their hands on. If you have credit cards with limits much higher than you need then get the limits reduced. Then, if your card is stolen or used without your knowledge, the amount they can take is limited. Also cancel any cards you don't use.

There are 66 million credit cards in the UK, but only 49 million adults. This is because many of us have several cards even though we only use one or two of them. You may have cut up the cards you don't use but, unless you have cancelled them with the provider, the card is still active and could be used by a fraudster. So make sure you cancel them.

It is also worth making sure your overdraft is only as big as you need it to be. That way if anyone does fraudulently get hold of your bank details, they can't go wild with an enormous overdraft.

4. Help fight the fraudsters

Finally, if you do receive a dodgy email, or a letter that you suspect is a scam, report it. This month is Scams Awareness Month: the OFT have placed "scamnesty" boxes in local libraries and other public areas so you can go and drop in suspicious correspondence to be checked. To find out where your nearest box is, or to report strange emails online, visit Consumer Direct.

Finally, if you get an email pretending to be from your bank, email it to your real bank so that they can investigate it and use it to help them combat future fraud. Most banks and PayPal have an email address listed on their website where you can send these emails.

Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.