Over the past 12 months, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that the number of people in the UK falling victim to scams has risen by 25% year on year, with a staggering 4.5 million offences reported since October 2021.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has also stated that the cost-of-living crisis is driving an uptick in financial crime and that we are seeing more people lose their hard-earned money.
So, what are the most common scams people are reporting, and how can you protect yourself?
We have analysed one year’s worth of posts within a Reddit community of 416,000 members to identify some of the most common techniques scammers are using to steal your money. Plus, we are sharing what to look out for as we begin to spend more for Christmas.
Searches for ‘how to report a scam’ have increased by 26% in 12 months
Analysing search data from Google between October 2021 and September 2022, we can reveal that searches for ‘how to report a scam’ have increased by 26%.
Notably, searches for this were at their highest in September 2022, which could suggest we are becoming more aware of scams getting closer to Christmas.
Searches for ‘Royal Mail scam’ spike in December and January
Further to the above, searches for ‘Royal Mail scam’ spike in December and January, with searches for ‘postal scam’ also increasing by 50% in the past 12 months.
This can come in many guises, such as texts saying that additional postage needs to be paid, delivery needs to be rescheduled or your item (that you never bought) is available to track.
These messages appear to be coming from Royal Mail, but they want you to click on a link, which is where they ask you to input personal and financial information.
Two ways to tell if you are being scammed include:
- Checking the official Royal Mail website if you receive a text message as detailed above. On their site, you can see scam messages relating to Christmas deliveries and the techniques criminals use.
- Checking texts and messages for any basic spelling or grammar mistakes. Look closely at the link as well, they might make subtle changes that you don’t see at a glance. For instance, they could use the number 0 instead of the letter O for R0YAL MAIL (it doesn’t look different until you look closer).
We also analysed Google search data for additional postal carriers and discovered there had been a rise of 100% for ‘Parcelforce email scams’ over the last 12 months.
Parcelforce has created its own guide that shares tips on the types of emails to look out for, stating people should never click on the links in these emails. Example scam emails include:
- Emails relating to shipping and payment information that ask you to make a payment, or that the item cannot be tracked. Parcelforce has said they will never send unsolicited emails asking for payment in this way.
- Emails containing attachments, with reasons for the email such as ‘parcel is too large’. If they cannot deliver a parcel, the delivery driver will always leave a card for you to rearrange delivery or collect your parcel. So, you should never open attachments in these types of emails.
So, what types of scams are becoming more prevalent?
1. The most common scam based on our analysis refers to ‘WhatsApp scams’
We identified scams with the highest number of upvotes to reveal some of the most common techniques scammers have been employing over the past 12 months. A post referring to ‘WhatsApp scams’ received 3,039 upvotes on the subreddit.
The popularity of this scam is further supported by Google searches for ‘WhatsApp scam text’ increasing by a staggering 21% in October 2022 compared to June 2022.
WhatsApp scams come in all shapes and sizes. One of the most recent in the UK is the ‘friends and family’ scam, where an unsuspecting user is contacted by what seems to be a friend or family member in need of urgent help to pay a bill, fine or similar. Reasons for not being able to pay include not being able to access online banking, so they need money sent to them.
The unsuspecting person then transfers money to the scammer (impersonating their family or friend) via the details provided. Often, questions are only raised when the victim is asked to do it again.
Police warnings have now been issued for this type of scam, with TSB also noting that this has risen this year.
If you have received this type of message, please call the family member or friend who has allegedly contacted you. Or visit them in person. This way, you can make sure you're checking the authenticity of the message and you can also provide a supporting hand if they are suffering financial problems.
2. You need to be aware of this scam involving bank transfers
When looking at the most upvoted scams listed within the subreddits, we can reveal scams involving bank transfers are the second most upvoted.
This type of scam refers to someone ‘mistakenly’ sending you money via bank transfer to an account of yours. Typically, this type of scam targets elderly people as they rely on the person not to check their account, but pressure them to send the money back to the scammer. In some cases, those being scammed could lose a significant amount of money.
One Redditor, who witnessed this type of scam involving bitcoin, described an elderly lady coming in to buy Bitcoin in their bank (available in America). The Redditor initially became concerned as they hadn’t yet seen an elderly person buy bitcoin in their bank. They also noticed she was on the phone with someone while doing this and appeared to be struggling to understand how to use the bitcoin ATM.
The Redditor spoke to the elderly woman, and she explained the person on the phone had sent the elderly woman $3,000 by ‘mistake’ as part of a refund, and that she needed to send it back via the bitcoin ATM.
The person on the phone then became argumentative when questioned about why they had sent this money in the first place. The Redditor ended the call and explained to the elderly woman how she could check her account to identify if someone had sent her money by ‘mistake’ and even printed labels of this type of scam to place on the bitcoin ATM to make people aware.
While this did happen in America, it’s estimated that three-quarters of Brits over the age of 65 have a main bank account. So, if you have an elderly relative, friend or neighbour, remind them to always contact their banking provider if they are called out of the blue by someone claiming they need money. Or, alternatively, you can show them how to use their account and check for any money being transferred in.
If you have been contacted out of the blue and someone has stated they have sent you money, always check your online banking (the elderly person above hadn’t done that before attempting to send the money back).
It’s also important to note that only scammers will apply pressure and insist you send money to them, not legitimate organisations. If you have received a call like this, you can report the scam to Action Fraud.
3. Redditors agree that you need to be careful of gift card scams
The third most upvoted scam within the subreddit referred to gift card scams. Additionally, Google searches for this type of scam have increased by 51% in the past year, suggesting that this could be becoming more common, particularly as we get closer to Christmas, and we start to purchase them more.
Scammers are tricking people into buying gift cards to pay for fines or taxes by claiming to be people from legitimate organisations, such as HMRC, DVLA, etc. They then threaten the person with arrest if they don’t purchase the gift cards to pay off their fine.
It’s also been reported that scammers have copied this scam method and are pretending to be from a person’s workplace, asking them to send a gift card to their colleague.
If you receive a call like this from an organisation, end the call and report it to Action Fraud. Organisations will NEVER ask you to pay for a fine or text with a gift card. If you do receive a message about a workplace gift card and it doesn’t appear to be correct, always check in with your manager or the person responsible before sending over any money.
4. If you are using Tinder, be wary of anyone that asks you to send money
The fourth most upvoted scam at the time of analysis was a ‘Tinder scam’. Tinder is widely used in the UK, and it’s important to be wary when meeting new people on the app.
As seen in the Netflix film, The Tinder Swindler, people have been scammed by people they have met on the app who claim to need money to get out of an urgent situation.
This is still very much a scam people need to be aware of, especially if someone they have only started talking to in recent weeks and months is asking for large sums of money.
But there is also another type of scam doing the rounds on Tinder. This refers to scammers asking those they have targeted (started a conversation with) on Tinder to invest in cryptocurrency. The targeted person then has to pay fees and taxes for investing in crypto, which goes directly into the criminal’s pocket.
Keeping vigilant on dating apps can be tricky, but here are some ways to spot dating and relationship scams. If someone you have only started speaking to is asking for money, that is a red flag. And, if they want to move this conversation about money away from the app, where you can block and report accounts, you should also be wary.
5. Don’t fall victim to the car crash scam
A ‘car crash scam’ was the fifth most upvoted scam in the subreddit analysed.
The Redditor shared that they had received a text claiming they (the Redditor) had damaged the messenger's car, who was getting in touch for money after responding to a note left on the car.
The person who had received the text message said they had never left such a note or even hit the car.
In the past month, Google searches for ‘car crash scam’ have risen by 20%, so it’s important to keep vigilant should you receive such a message.
As mentioned above, this type of scam refers to criminals contacting fellow motorists to state they had damaged their car, or even approaching a person in public to state this. Some criminals may even go so far as to stage a crash in an attempt to gain money for damage caused.
RAC has previously stated that people who believe they have fallen victim to this scam should report it immediately to the police and Action Fraud, detailing everything that happened.
6. Be wary of this scam when applying for jobs
According to Google, there are over 1,000 searches per month for a ‘fake job scam’. Sadly, this could increase as more people search for jobs in the current financial crisis.
One unfortunate Redditor had suffered from this type of scam, with 1,653 upvotes on his post (at the time of analysis).
There are several fake job and interview scams but some of the most common include payment requirements. Purchasing office equipment for the role before you have even been hired or paying an employer to get the job. The Redditor had been asked to pay for office materials to be refunded when they started the role, which never materialised.
You should never pay an employer or firm to hire you, nor should you pay for equipment without being hired and having a clear agreement of what you need to pay, and when it will be reimbursed. Even if this is the case, you should question why you need to buy these items and thoroughly research the company before doing so.
Other red flags of fake job scams include poorly written communications or typos on their site and harassment or significant pressure to commit to the job. Always trust your instincts and report them to Action Fraud if you are suspicious.
7. Be cautious when buying items from Facebook ads this Christmas
Facebook makes most of its money from Facebook ads, so we are constantly bombarded with adverts for products and services, with this only ramping up as we get closer to Christmas.
But one Redditor fell victim to a fake ad, with his post on Facebook ad scams receiving 1,634 upvotes. Likewise, searches for ‘fake Facebook ads’ have ramped up by 21% since August 2022, according to Google, which could suggest that general awareness of this type of scam is growing.
In the case of the Redditor, they had been conned out of £176 by a fake ad selling ground mince. But other companies are sharing fake products and services, encouraging people to visit their fraudulent sites and buy items that will never arrive.
In one case, reported by Which?, a scammer convinced victims to invest £50,000 each through multiple Facebook adverts.
Always research the company before you buy from them. Do they have a business address or contact details? Does the website seem suspicious or lack detail?
You should also take care to avoid any ads with clear spelling and grammatical mistakes, as well as low-quality images.
For more information on Facebook, read up on our guide to protecting yourself from Facebook scams.
8. And here’s how to avoid fake websites when buying presents
Further to the above, searches for ‘fake website scam’ are at their highest since February 2022, likely due to more of us looking to purchase presents online with Christmas approaching.
One Redditor highlighted that this is an extremely common scam, with 1,617 upvoting the comment.
Scam websites aim to get your personal and financial information. So, they may encourage you to purchase through social media ads or enticing giveaways.
- Online shopping scam websites, designed to collect your card details.
- Phishing websites, where criminals may create a website to impersonate organisations such as banks. They then take your details as you believe you are inputting information on a legitimate site.
If you do believe you might have navigated to a fake website, look for any web pages such as About Us or Contact Us. Do they not have these pages? Or is there a surprising lack of information about the company? Do they have social media where you can see their engagement with real customers?
You can also look to see if the business is registered and if they have reviews on the likes of Trustpilot. Do the reviews appear legitimate, or do they all have the same writing style? Are the titles of reviews generic, such as ‘awesome product’ without any clear detail?
Another option is to look out for poor or odd grammar, spelling mistakes, low-quality designs and even the type of language they use.
You should also be aware of PayPal scams when purchasing online
As more people shop online and, therefore, could potentially fall victim to fake websites, it’s also important to understand the scams that could occur when purchasing items.
‘PayPal scam email’ searches have risen by 86% in the past year, according to Google. Fraudsters can impersonate PayPal emails by faking the ‘friendly name’ in the sender’s email address. This could look like it came from PayPal when, in fact, the email address is completely different. If you click on the name or ‘reply’, you should see the actual email address which will indicate it is a scam.
An email from PayPal will never ask for information such as your password or credit card number or ask you to download attachments. If you do receive any suspicious emails from PayPal, you can report them and they will be investigated.
What should you do if you have been scammed?
First, you should never feel embarrassed. Scammers are clever and anyone could be scammed. But reporting the scam could mean that fewer people will fall victim.
- Gather all of the details of your scam. This should include who contacted you, why you are concerned and any information or money you have shared.
- Report the scam to Citizens Advice, who will pass the information on to Trading Standards.
- Report the scam to Action Fraud who will investigate the scam and even give you a crime reference number, which you can share with your bank.
- For a scam email, report it to [email protected] as that will go to the National Cyber Security Centre. For more information, you can also read our guide on how to spot a phishing scam.
- You can report a scam advert, including fake Facebook ads, to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
To understand other forms of scams and the tell-tale signs, read up on how to stay safe from scammers.
To reveal a common list of scams to be aware of, we analysed posts from the past 12 months in the /r/scams Reddit thread, with 416,000 members, to highlight some of the types of scams people had fallen victim to and how you can avoid those very same scams.
We then identified the scams with the highest upvotes (which is a type of engagement on the platform) to identify the types of methods criminals could be targeting your money.
We also analysed Google KW planner data to highlight the rise in searches for specific types of scams. Search data was analysed between August 2021 to September 2022.
Disclaimer: We make every effort to ensure that content is correct at the time of publication. Please note that information published on this website does not constitute financial advice, and we aren’t responsible for the content of any external sites.