12 scams to be aware of and how to avoid them

This article was originally published in December 2022. Updated January 2024.

The internet opens you up to a whole new world of opportunity, but it also exposes you to a wide variety of online scams. Our Guide of 12 scams helps alert you to some common scams and how to avoid them.

The Twelve scams cover:

  1. WhatsApp Messenger scams
  2. Online shopping fraud
  3. Delivery scams
  4. Amazon 'brushing' scams
  5. E-card and gift card scams
  6. Supermarket scams
  7. Refund scams
  8. Fake websites
  9. Microsoft Support Scam
  10. Facebook bonus scams
  11. Banks scams
  12. Travel scams

1. WhatsApp Messaging scam

WhatsApp Messenger is a simple, convenient and powerful way of keeping in touch with family and friends. Its popularity, however, has made it a popular target for scammers, and messaging scams are on the rise. 

What's the scam?

You may receive a message from someone pretending to be a family member. As in this example, scammers may ask you to transfer money for an emergency. Typically, the notes come from the accounts of hijacked accounts. 

How to avoid WhatsApp scams

Advice from WhatsApp is to stop before you act. It's excellent advice for this and all scams, as revealed in our Free webinar with Greater Manchester Police, and an earlier free session, which featured Take 5 and others. First, ask if the message makes sense? Would a relative send this type of message? Finally, if you have any doubts, call the person and ask if they sent the message. 

2. Online shopping fraud

What's the scam?

Scammers hook you into fake websites claiming to sell items such as clothing, games consoles and other desirable goods, which never arrive. According to UK Finance, in 2020, people lost £27 million to fraud in the first half of the year. 

That amounts to £720 per case, on average. 

How to avoid online fraud

In this case, the adage "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is" is one to recall. Bargain prices on the year's must-have gifts should ring alarm bells. Buy from websites that you recognise. Where you don't recognise a retailer, look at their website and check for other means of getting in touch. For example, do they have a chat function, and does it work? Is there a registered address in the UK?

Avoid links that come from unsolicited emails, which are more likely to be scams. 

3. Delivery scams

What's the scam?

A box displaying the amazon logo on its sideYou'll receive an email (or text) letting you know that you've received a parcel or are due to receive one. There are many varieties of this scam. One from the Post Office, for example, asks you to enter personal information that it requires before it can send your parcel. The report includes personally sensitive information such as a bank account detail or date of birth. 

Later, you will receive a phone call from scammers who will use this information to convince you they are your bank and empty your account. 

Similar scams, saying you have a parcel, may appear to come from Hermes, DPD and amazon. 

How to avoid delivery scams?

First, ask if you're expecting a parcel? You might be.

  • However, there's no need to enter sensitive information to receive one, and none of the major delivery companies will ask for this - if an app or message is asking for this, it should raise alarm bells. 
  • Next, check with the company (not the delivery company) where you placed an order using your online account rather than an email. Again, don't click on links from within the email. 
  • If it's asking for money or personal information, it could be a scam. 
  • Check the address of the email sender and if it looks suspicious, ignore it. 
  • Watch out for generic greetings and grammatical errors, which suggest this is a scam. 

4. A surprise delivery from amazon

You might receive an amazon delivery you weren't expecting as part of a so-called amazon "brushing" scam. 

What's the scam?

Amazon Marketplace sellers send packages (often from China) to boost their sales volumes and reviews. Consumer champion, Which? logged deliveries of goods from fake eyelashes to bath mats and fairy lights. 

These scams aim to boost ratings and trick others into buying sub-standard products.

How to avoid the scam?

Those who have called amazon to report this scam were told to keep the goods. However, it may suggest your data is compromised, and so a change of passwords is advisable.

5. E-greetings with a nasty surprise

What's the scam?

A Christmas card positioned on a Christmas treeYou might receive an e-greeting reportedly containing a gift card from Amazon or another online store. Often, these messages contain malware, which will mine your email for the personal details of others and could also steal your personal information, including personal account details. 

Similarly, e-cards can contain malware. 

How to avoid the scam?

You should always be wary of unsolicited emails, particularly those bearing gifts. First, check the email address, and if you don't recognise it, the chances are it is spam. If the message does appear to come from someone you know, contact them and check whether they have sent you a gift. 

In the case of e-cards, particularly those containing links, think before you click and if in doubt, don't. 

Older lady and younger man discussing technology at a kitchen tableLearn how to master the online world and how it can benefit you, via free digital skills training from AbilityNet in partnership with BT Group.

Find out about our in-person support with scam advice and more!

6. Supermarket scams

These scams will offer a voucher to help you foot the bill. 

What's the scam?

Scammers have sent out a raft of emails claiming to be offering FREE vouchers at major supermarkets. 

Fake vouchers are circulating claiming to come from the likes of Aldi, Lidl, Tesco and Waitrose. Scammers are distributing them via a variety of channels, including email, WhatsApp and Twitter. 

How to avoid the scam?

It's another case of "if it's too good to be true..." The best action is to delete the message or email and not click on links you don't recognise. Alternatively, check the official website of the supermarket or their official social media accounts. If they are offering a deal, the likelihood is you'll find the details there. 

7. Refund scams

Did you pay too much for an order? Beware of companies offering a refund. 

What's the scam?

Credit cards arranged in a fan design in a back pocket of some denim jeansScams offering to give you a refund hit Argos a couple of years ago. The cons arrived via text and claimed to provide refunds for several hundred pounds.

Unfortunately, it included a link to a phishing website, which encouraged people to enter their details. 

How to avoid the scam?

It's easy to dismiss these scams if you haven't ordered from one of these websites where you have don't follow links from the website but visit the official company website and login to your account if you have one. Generally, you should avoid clicking on links from unsolicited emails. 

8. Website scams and fakes

Watch out for bargains that seem too good to be true - particularly those bearing cut-price gifts. 

What's the scam?

Illustration person on laptop. Screen reads "scam alert"There are many ways scammers try to hook you in during the festive season. Some will "spoof" or fake reputable websites, particularly around big days in the run-up to Christmas, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. They tend to focus on big, premium and desirable brands - Adidas, for example, has fallen prey to spoofing, as have many others. 

The scammers are sophisticated and will grab screenshots from the official site and use logos to create a genuine appearance. 

Often the scammers will "bait" you through emails that promise amazing offers but ones that are going to expire unless you grab a bargain immediately. 

For support with scams, and other tech issues, call our helpline on 0300 180 0028

How to avoid the scam?

As with many of the other scams, don't click on links from unsolicited emails. Instead, use your web browser to find the company's official website if you're genuinely interested in a deal. 

Other things to watch out for are:

  • Deals that appear too good to be true
  • Unusual domain (website) addresses with numbers or special characters
  • Too many irrelevant five-star reviews
  • Unusual payment methods such as money or wire transfer
  • Offers of fantastic cashback when you buy from the site
  • Typos and bad grammar
  • Lack of or unusual or suspicious contact details

9. Microsoft Technical Support scam

What's the scam?

You receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming that they have kindly detected an error or security risk on your computer they'd like to help you fix. The scammer then asks for permission to remote into your computer. They may ask you to download special software to enable this, first.

Next, they may show you "log files", which are normal but claim these are bugs that need fixing. They will then ask for credit card details to charge you to fix them - or convince you to subscribe to a service that supports you. 

How to avoid the scam?

Microsoft will never reach out to you in this way, so you should ignore any calls. It's worth pointing out that the remote software is legitimate and that reputable companies - including AbilityNet - may use it to fix your computer.

However, if someone - including us - calls you and you're not expecting it, you can hang up. Instead, find the official number online and call back. A genuine person won't mind. Don't be duped into calling back a number that the caller gives you. 

In addition, never give away personal details to someone who you don't know and who calls you online.

10. Facebook Bonus Scams

Generally, we trust people close to us, including friends and family, and this scam seeks to exploit that trust. 

What's the scam?

You'll receive a message via Facebook offering a bonus or special discount in time for Christmas. The message comes from a cloned Facebook profile, which appears to be from a friend or relative. It may ask you to send personal information to qualify for the bonus or gift.

How to avoid the scam?

The best way to deal with this is to ignore it. Do not respond to the message, and don't forward it putting other friends at risk. 

11. Banking scams

We may be spending more than usual at this time of year, so we're potentially receptive to calls from our banks.

What's the scam?

Someone calls and pretends to be calling from your bank. They may claim that someone else is trying to get into your account and/or they have noticed suspicious activity. They will ask for personal details such as your account number, for example. They will then walk you through a security process to generate transaction codes to transfer money into another account.

It's a way of transferring money out of your account and into their own.

Credit card close up. Wallet in background.How to avoid the scam?

Your bank will not make unsolicited calls to you. Period. All banks are clear on this point, and so if someone is calling you and claiming to be calling from your bank, you should be suspicious. 

If you're at all in doubt, hang up. For peace of mind, you can call the official number you have for your bank and ask if they tried to contact you.

Do not call back a number the caller gives you s number spoofing is common - and just because the number they are calling you from looks the same or similar as the one they're calling you from, still hang up and call back the official number online.

12. Travel scams

The travel industry is one of the hardest-hit by Covid-19, and there's potentially still potential for travel providers to cancel at the last notice.

What's the scam?

Scammers will tap into this and send messages about refunding your holiday, particularly if a supplier sadly goes under. 

How to avoid the scam?

As with many of the scams we've listed, you'll know if you booked a holiday with a particular provider - and a trip to a reputable news site will soon confirm if they've gone under. 

Watch out for poor grammar within these emails and as with general advice here, visit official websites first. For example, even if a travel supplier has ceased trading, there'll be an official message on its website, which will remain until the receivers and others have dealt with its decline.

Useful Resources

What can you do to avoid being a victim? Thankfully, there is a lot of excellent information available on the internet.  A great place to start is the Action Fraud website.  If you have been the victim of fraud, this website is also the best to report the incident. We would also advise you to Take Five and question what you are doing. 

You might also be interested in our practical tips to shield yourself from scams resources.

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