11 subtle signs you're being scammed via email, phone, or social media

·5-min read
Photo credit: Katie Wilde  - Getty Images
Photo credit: Katie Wilde - Getty Images

We’ve all heard the horror stories – people losing thousands of pounds thanks to scammers tricking them into sharing personal information or bank details, over the phone or online. You might think, “That would never happen to me!”, or that only older or vulnerable people fall victim to scams – but unfortunately, email scams, text message scams and the like are more common than you think among all ages. Fraudsters can be incredibly clever, and know exactly how to prey on people’s fear and self-doubt.

“As we’re all spending more time online, it’s good to be aware of what we can do to keep ourselves safe from fraudsters and cybercriminals,” says Jeni Mundy, managing director (UK and Ireland) at Visa. But with super-sophisticated scams on the rise, how can you protect yourself without turning off your phone, deleting your social media accounts and becoming a complete hermit? Don’t panic – there are some tell-tale signs you can look out for…

Signs you're being scammed via email

Got an email from your favourite retailer about a sale, or claiming you’ve won a prize? Before you get too excited, stop and think.

“Scam emails tend to encourage the reader to click on a link, for example, to claim for a voucher, a large sum of money as a prize or access to a recent sale or discount,” says Jeni. “These scams are designed to be easily believable and may offer a product you have previously bought or a widely popular item, making it seem more feasible.”

More scam warning signs to look out for in an email address are random characters or spelling mistakes. If you’re not sure whether an email is genuine, don’t click on any links or download files.

You might also receive emails claiming to be from your bank, a retailer or a parcel delivery service, asking for personal details such as your full name or date of birth, bank details or card details. Make sure you delete these.

Photo credit: Jurgita Vaicikeviciene / EyeEm - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jurgita Vaicikeviciene / EyeEm - Getty Images

Signs you're being scammed by phone call

In a phone scam, fraudsters impersonate a company – often your bank – to ask you for your personal or financial details. Cleverly, they can 'screen' a real number that’s registered to the company they’re claiming to be, so even if the number looks familiar, that doesn’t mean the call is legitimate.

“The criminal on the phone might suggest that your card has been flagged for suspicious transactions, and that you need to prove you’re in possession of the card,” explains Jeni. “They would do this by asking you to provide your 3-digit security code on the back of your card, a one-time password or even your PIN.”

A tell-tale sign you’re being scammed over the phone? “Cybercriminals or fraudsters don’t want to give you the time to work out they’re lying,” says Jeni. “They may create a sense of urgency – giving you tight deadlines or putting pressure on you.” Banks and credit card companies will never ask for this type of information over the phone, so try to stay calm and trust your instincts.

Signs you're being scammed by text

A common type of scam is a text claiming to be from your bank or a parcel delivery service, encouraging you to click on a link and input your personal details. “A common example of text message phishing is when a fraudster sends a text informing you of suspicious activity on your bank account, and asks you to click on the link to log in to your account or to verify a transaction,” explains Jeni.

Want to check if the message is legit? You could contact the company via their website, or check if anyone else is reporting the scam text online. Try to use a different form of communication to the one they have used to reach you – for example, if you get a text asking for personal information, email the company directly to check.

Photo credit: Tim Robberts - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Robberts - Getty Images

Signs you're being scammed on social media

“One tactic scammers use is to create a fake account and attempt to friend, follow or send a private message to you on social media,” says Jeni. “One of the easiest ways to filter out requests is to check if they have any mutual friends or followers you know. If you think it might be a fake account, it’s best to ignore the request or message.” Don’t give out any personal information or money on social media unless you’re 100% sure you know and trust the recipient.

Similarly, before you click on any links you’re sent via social media, make sure to check whether the user that sent it to you is genuine. Most company pages will have a tick next to their name as a verification. If the message is from a friend’s account, contact them off social media – by phone call or text, for example – to check with them first.

Signs you're being scammed on a website

Scammers can create fake websites designed to trick you into sharing sensitive information. “Recent examples of this have included pop-up tabs saying you’ve won a prize, or encouraging you to sign up for a subscription service,” says Jeni. “These websites are designed to trick you into entering personal details or key card details.”

One key sign to look out for is the site’s URL. If it doesn’t match the company’s official one letter for letter, it may be a scam website. Look out for spelling mistakes and check the design, too – if something doesn’t look right, it normally means the website is fake.

Another trick is to look at the website name and check it begins with “https://”. The “s” at the end indicates it’s a secure connection, and the website is more likely to be legitimate.

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