36 million Brits targeted by cowboys in 2021 – how to stay safe from scams

woman paying by card for online transaction

If you have received a plausible looking text or email in recent weeks that turned out to be fake, you’re not alone.

New research from Citizens Advice has revealed that scammers have targeted more than two-thirds of UK adults – that’s 36 million people – since January 2021. And scams are on the rise, with the number reported to the charity having more than doubled compared to the same period in 2020.

Scams via unsolicited emails are up by 667%, and scams via telephone calls have increased by 60%.

And, while fraudsters continue to target the over-55s, people aged 34 and under are almost five times more likely to fall victim to a scam than their older counterparts, say Citizens Advice.

So, what should you look out for, and how do you stay safe from financial scams? Read on to find out more.

The three most common scams in 2021

Citizens Advice found that scammers were most likely to target younger people by text or messaging service, while they were most likely to target those over-55 over the phone.

Of all those targeted by a scammer:

  • 54% were about fake deliveries or parcels
  • 41% were by someone pretending to be from the government
  • 12% were by someone offering a fake investment or get rich quick scheme.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “From fraudulent get rich quick schemes to dodgy texts, opportunistic scammers continue to prey on even the savviest of consumers. Our research shows that when it comes to scams anyone can be targeted, and anyone can be tricked.

“It’s more important than ever we all do our bit to report scams when we see them to help protect ourselves and others. By learning how scammers operate, and helping each other understand what to look out for, we can all work together to stop fraudsters in their tracks”.

Social media giants move to crack down on financial scam adverts

In a move designed to help protect you from what the Telegraph calls a “fraud epidemic”, two of the big social media giants have taken steps to tackle scams.

From 30 August 2021, any company advertising financial services on Google must be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The tech company also said it was joining campaign group Stop Scams UK, the first major technology company to do so. It has also pledged £3.6 million in advertising credits to support public-awareness campaigns.

In recent weeks, TikTok has also banned the promotion of various financial services products including investments and cryptocurrency.

The platform said its policy included a ban on promotions for the lending and management of money assets, cryptocurrency, foreign exchange, investment services and get rich quick schemes.

This comes after the FCA recently warned about the rise in unregulated adverts, and urged firms to do more to tackle online harm.

Financial scams can result in significant losses – how to stay safe

While all scams can result in financial losses, investment and pension scams are some of the most pernicious.

Text messaging scams might see a fraudster steal personal or bank details, but large-scale investment scams could see you lose thousands or, worse, your life savings.

The Telegraph reports that the number of pension scams has increased significantly during the pandemic to become one of the most common types of fraud. Action Fraud say the number of reported crimes has jumped by 45% this year compared with 2020.

The Pensions Regulator has said it is investigating more than £54 million of lost pension savings, affecting 18,000 people.

Here’s what you should look out for, and some tips to keep you safe.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

Remember the old adage: “If it sounds good to be true, it probably is”. Adverts or communications offering guaranteed or high returns are often a sign of fraud.

Beware of offers to access your pension early

Be careful of anyone offering “early access” to your pension.

A survey conducted by insurer LV= found that 14% of adults had received unsolicited emails, texts or calls from people encouraging them to transfer or release money from their pension.

Releasing money from your pension before age 55 can result in significant tax charges and other costs.

Speak to a financial adviser

Speak to a financial adviser to check any offer you have received. If you’re unsure whether an offer is genuine, pick up the phone to your adviser who will be able to confirm whether it is or isn’t a scam.

Beware of limited offers or deadlines

Most genuine investment or pension opportunities won’t come with a pressure to act.

Clive Bolton of insurer LV= says: “People should be wary if they come under pressure to quickly withdraw money from a pension or complete a transfer.”

Check whether firms are regulated by the FCA and that websites are genuine

Scammers are increasingly using websites to lure unsuspecting victims.

According to the Telegraph, Aviva, the pensions group, identified 27 fake websites between March and September 2020, that purported to be them. All these sites were designed to fool visitors into thinking they were on the Aviva website, with the aim of defrauding pension savers.

Look for unusual URLs or email addresses, perhaps featuring hyphens or other strange characters. Spelling mistakes or typos are also a good indication that a website or email is a fraud.

Get in touch

If you’ve been offered a pension or investment opportunity and you’d like to establish whether it is genuine, we can help. Please get in touch by email enquire@london-money.co.uk or call us on 0207 808 4120.