Mobile phone scams

Mobile phones have developed rapidly over the last few years and most now offer a huge range of functions. Smartphones are mini-computers, so take all the same precautions you would with your own computer at home.

What you should know

If you use an app to access your online banking, only use the official app provided by your bank. If in doubt, contact your bank to check.

Only download apps from official app stores, such as Apple iTunes, Android Marketplace, Google, Play Store and BlackBerry App World. Downloading them from unofficial or unknown sources could lead to your device becoming infected with a virus.

Keep your smartphone’s operating system updated with the latest security patches and upgrades. These will normally be sent to you from your operating system provider.

Never give your mobile banking security details, including your passcode, to anyone else and don’t store them on your phone. For added security you should set up a password or PIN to lock your mobile phone or tablet device.

Just like on your computer, anti-virus tools are available for your mobile device. Consider using a reputable brand of software. Some banks offer free antivirus software for their customers’ mobile phones. Check your bank’s website for more information.

Be wary of clicking on links contained in a text message or email. Don’t respond to unsolicited messages or voicemails on your phone. Your bank will never email you or send you a text message that asks you to disclose your PIN or full password.

Examples of mobile phone scams

Text scams offering you money for an accident you may have had is often a ploy to obtain your personal details. Do not reply, even by sending a ‘STOP’ text. Simply delete the message.

You may receive a text message or advert encouraging you to enter a competition for a great prize. The scammers make money by charging extremely high rates for the messages sent from you to them. These could be as high as £2 per text message. Do not reply.

‘Trivia scams’ involve answering a series of general knowledge questions in order to win a prize. The first few questions will be very easy. This is meant to encourage you to keep playing. However, the last one or two questions you need to answer in order to claim your ‘prize’ could be very difficult or even impossible.

If you try to claim your prize, you may have to call a premium rate number, perhaps beginning 0906. You may then have to listen to a long recorded message, designed to keep you on the line. It’s highly unlikely there will be a prize at the end of it. Do not phone back to claim.

‘SMiShing’ (SMS phishing) occurs when a scammer sends you a text message asking you to provide personal or financial information. The message may appear to be from a legitimate company, like a mobile phone provider, but legitimate companies will never ask you to provide sensitive information by text. Don’t reply to these types of text messages. Simply delete them.

Unless you are using a secure web page, do not send or receive private information when using public Wi-Fi. Equally, be aware of who is around you when using a mobile device to go online.

Mass market fraud or scam mail

Many people in the UK, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, are lured by the prospect of a surprise win, and find themselves parting with large amounts of money or personal data in order to claim their fake prize. The sophistication of mass market mail and online fraud and scam mail can vary enormously but as a general rule, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Examples of scam mail

The most common mass market fraud, the fake prize scam, is where you receive a message by post, email or text that you have won a prize or competition - usually one you’ve never heard of. The message asks for an upfront payment in order to claim the prize, which either never materialises or is very different to what was promised.

‘Psychic’ and ‘clairvoyant’ scams can be used to set up victims for a fake prize scam. In this situation, a ‘psychic’ sends the victim a list of ‘lucky’ lottery numbers. Soon afterwards, a letter arrives telling the victim they’ve won a lottery with those exact numbers. Of course, this is all part of the scam.

You may receive unsolicited mail advertising ‘high quality’ or ‘exclusive’ goods, which in reality can be extremely poor value for money. Another mass marketing scam is to offer a share of a cash prize that can only be redeemed by placing an order for goods. The goods are usually of extremely poor quality and the cash prize is never mentioned again.

Also be wary when sending money, or receiving money from, someone you do not know and trust. This may be a ploy by a scammer to get you to pass money through your bank account that could be stolen from another victim’s account.

Technically you may be money laundering and acting for the scammers as a ‘money mule’. If convicted of money laundering you could be sent to prison. Having a criminal conviction can make it difficult for you to obtain financial products in the future and may affect your job prospects.

It can only take a single response to a scammer to be inundated with further scam mail. Your name and address will be included on what they refer to as a ‘sucker’s list’ and you may receive large amounts of scam mail on a daily basis.

Remember, you cannot win money or a prize in a lottery that you have not entered. You cannot be ‘chosen at random’ from a list you didn’t sign up to. And you should never have to pay a fee or make a purchase to claim a legitimate prize.

Internet scams

Many internet scams take place without the victim even noticing. Scammers may attempt to put programs on your computer that can steal, wipe or lock your data. To prevent this, ensure you have antivirus software and a firewall installed on your computer, and keep it up to date. If you are aware of the following precautions and use common sense you should be able to avoid becoming a victim.

What you should know

Scammers use the site to defraud people using unsolicited or junk emails, known as ‘spam’. Simply delete the email, otherwise the scammer will continue to send you more and more emails from lots of different addresses.

Any email you receive from an unknown sender is likely to be spam, especially if it is not addressed to you personally and promises you some kind of gain.

If you receive an email with an attachment from someone you know, but it is not the usual sort of message you get from them, do not open the attachment. Contact the person who is supposed to have sent it and confirm it’s genuine. The email may have been infected with a virus and forwarded through their address book.

Online marketplaces can be a lot of fun and can save you money but they are also used by scammers. Scammers will try to steer you away from online sites and request that you use unusual payment methods, such as money transfer agents or Emoney - a digital equivalent of cash.

The most common scams at the moment are for concert and event tickets, apartments, residential and holiday lettings, dating and romance and vehicles for sale or hire (especially if hire vehicles are to be delivered to you). Adverts and websites can be very sophisticated so do some research to ensure everything makes sense. Always consider your personal safety when meeting anyone you have met on the internet.

Be careful of bogus official looking websites, claiming to assist in applying for passports, visas and driving licences.

There are lots of ways scammers gain personal or financial information from their victims, such as ‘phishing’, where an unsolicited email purporting to be from a legitimate company asks you to divulge personal details; ‘vishing’, where an automated phone message or cold-caller purporting to be from a legitimate company asks you for personal details; and ‘spear phishing’, which is a type of phishing scam that focuses on an individual or department within an organisation, addressed from someone within the company in a position of trust. Using these methods, scammers request information such as login details and passwords.

As a general rule, never give your personal or financial details to anyone unless you know and trust who you are giving them to.

Online shopping and auction fraud

Shopping online is becoming ever more popular. It can save time and effort and gives you a wide choice of goods from around the world. Fraudsters use online shopping scams because they can hide their identity using the internet.

What you should know

Scammers may try to encourage you to leave a legitimate site to complete a sale. If you do this you could lose any payment protection the legitimate auction site offers.

Luxury or designer goods are unlikely to be associated with the words ‘cheap’ or ‘bargain’. Scammers will often over emphasise words such as ‘genuine’ and ‘authentic’.

Never pay for a vehicle without viewing it, and the relevant documentation, in person first. You may be offered a low price or discount to make payment prior to seeing the car or it being delivered. Don’t be tempted.

Beware when selling items online as well. Scammers can enter a very low bid and then, using another name, enter an extremely high bid. Just before bidding closes the high bidder will withdraw leaving the scammer’s low bid to win.

Research sellers’ and other bidders’ selling history. Also bear in mind that a website ending ‘’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s based in the UK. Check the address of the company and the phone number.