/ Scams

Protecting yourself against scams during a pandemic

Citizens Advice continues to help people with a wide range of scams through the pandemic. Here, it joins us to spread awareness and explain more about its work.

This is a guest post by Citizens Advice. All views expressed are its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on all of us and how we interact with friends, family and colleagues. We’re spending more time online which means scammers have new and increased opportunities to prey on our reliance on the internet.

We’re pleased to see the work Which? has been doing with its scam alert service and glad to be a part of this week of awareness on Which? Conversation.

Make Which? aware of a scam with its new scam sharer tool

At the Citizens Advice Scams Action service we help people with a wide range of scams – from online dating to online shopping, spoof vaccines to fake medical kits. Here are just two examples of coronavirus related scams we’ve dealt with recently:

Sam paid £127 for a coronavirus test which turned out to be fake. The trader offered Sam a refund which never appeared and Sam received notification that they’d tested negative for coronavirus despite not sending in a sample.


Alex booked a flight through a third-party company. When the flight was cancelled because of the pandemic, Alex didn’t receive a refund despite several contacts to the company. When Alex looked online there were lots of other people also awaiting a refund.

Four Citizens Advice tips to spot an online scam

Online scams can be very sophisticated –  it’s often too late before you realise everything isn’t as it seems. Here are our #ScamsAction top tips to spot one:

⚠ 1) Do you know who you’re talking to? 

Whether you’re talking to an individual or an organisation, it’s important to make sure that who you’re talking to is legit. If you’ve been approached out of the blue, don’t respond until you’ve checked if they are who they say they are. If you do recognise the company, check it’s contacted you in the way it normally would.

⚠ 2) Do some background research

Start with an internet search about the company. Seeing what others say about can help you find out if it’s legitimate or not. For registered companies you can search for their details on the gov.uk website. Or if you’re dealing with an online retailer you should check where in the world they’re based and whether they’re part of a consumer protection scheme. 

⚠ 3) Are they asking for personal information or money?

This could include PIN codes, passwords or even financial information. Sometimes scammers might ask strange questions such as the name of your primary school or a pets name — these are often used as password prompts to gain access to accounts. You should never send money to someone you don’t know. 

⚠ 4) If it’s a retailer, how do they want you to pay?

If a retailer is asking you to pay by an unusual means such as crypto currency, you should be suspicious! Crypto-currencies lack vital protections that you get when paying by debit or credit card. Before you pay using any means, you should check the terms and conditions.

How Citizens Advice can help

If you’ve been the victim of an online scam, you can contact the Citizens Advice #ScamsAction service online or over the phone. You can also use our online scams helper to identify whether something is a scam.

Our #ScamsAction service not only helps people who’ve been scammed but aims to educate people to identify online scams to help prevent more people falling victim. Check us out on Twitter, Medium or TikTok to find out more. 

This was a guest post by Citizens Advice. All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.


@enix – Hi Emily – Do you find that people become more careful if they have been scammed?

Grace Parton says:
1 April 2021

yes I have been carefull as I have nearly been caught, with B.T. SCAMMERS .but my gut instink kicked in and I called B.T.i WAS RIGHT. i am in my eighties, and cannot afford to loose my hard earned savings TAKE A FEW MINUTES.. before you go on line and always ask who is calling when answering the phone never say yes till you know who it is.

Last week I had about 12 calls in one day, all automated ‘from BT’. Later I got a call from a man with an Indian accent, I told him that I was not a BT customer ‘Oh yes we know that’ he said. I told him that unless I got a call from my own internet provider I was not going to believe anything he said and terminated the call. No calls from my own internet provider and no problems with the internet.

I suggested this guide should have its own convo so people can update it with their own useful sites but my suggestion seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

I put this shopping checklist together to help people learn how to shop more safely online and research who they are buying from before getting scammed, but can be applied to any online transaction or phone call. Just get as much information as possible and ask them to spell it out if necessary.

Before committing to any transaction, always check out the seller and the product. Even the most legitimate-looking websites can be fake so do your homework first. Be very wary if none of this information is available.

Look for all the names, addresses and phone numbers associated with the website. The website name, the company name and the seller name can all be different.

Can you find addresses for the seller? A seller might use several addresses – registered address, VAT, trading, website, check them all out. Are there other ‘sellers’ at the same address?

Search tip: Put phrases in “double quotes” to get an exact match. Works on Google but not all sites. Removing the double quotes might also bring up some interesting results.

Here are a few sites you can use to check before you buy:

Search for businesses and people
Companies House
Addresses don’t work too well but single words do. There is now a search for officers by location that sort of works for other search terms e.g. John Smith location:”High Street, London”.

“123 high street” anytown

What you find is not necessarily the truth but can be a good indicator. Many of the reviews are fake – a sure sign that something is amiss. Look to see what other reviews the reviewer has left.
I take more notice of bad reviews that often give further information on the seller or the product.

Check VAT numbers

Look up addresses Check the timeline to see how the building or area has changed. Scammers often use an address of a vacant building or one that has just been knocked down.
https://www.getmapping.com/ (limited but different timelines for free)

Search phone numbers
A useful website or Google and put number in double quotes to move spaces around e.g.
“01234 567 890”
“+44 1234 567890”

Search product images
Reverse images (flip horizontally) and search again.

How long has the seller been trading?
Amazon and ebay both show this info. If the seller is new, be very careful.
Ask the seller a question just to get a reply. This could be just asking the weight or dimensions of the product. Search the reply email address.

Search selected text in “double quotes” from advert or reviews: e.g. “left-handed screwdriver”

Search products on foreign eBay/Amazon sites
Put part of the description in double quotes “like this” with e.g. amazon.de or ebay.ca

Google translator (Chinese names & addresses can have interesting results)

Financial Services Register
Check the register to make sure a financial business you are dealing with is listed. Insurance companies must be registered.

It is almost impossible to check out sellers thoroughly especially with so many scammers on Facebook selling products that look to good to be true. Consider only buying locally and arrange to meet the seller where you can examine the product and exchange product and cash in person.

Website Checkers
All sellers have to start somewhere and a good rating might mean they are new or they haven’t been found out yet. A recently set up website with too-good-to-be-true prices and very little seller information is almost certainly a scam, but scammers can set up many fake sites to give the impression they are established. Read the reasons for the scores given.


Check the safety of a website or email. No unsafe content found is only one indicator and should not be trusted on its own.

@alfa, I don’t know whether there are any ears, let alone deaf ones. As you may know I have been trying for years to get real engagement between Which? and both its members and contributors. I don’t know why they seem to simply avoid a rich resource.

David Farrar says:
26 March 2021

I have had a few scam phone calls as listed below. I hope that I can alert others.
1. An anonymous voice saying he was calling from a government department called Benefits UK. He said that I had to confirm my identity and answer some questions. Of course I did neither. This call originates from a selection of phone numbers.
2. A recorded message from Amazon Prime saying that they would be taking £79.99 from my bank account next month. This is a regular call, which I ignore. The number this call comes from is shown as ‘UNAVAILABLE’ on caller display.
3. A recorded message from British Telecom saying that my broadband will be stopped within 24 hours because of illegal activity on it. Caller display shows this as an international call.
3. An anonymous voice telling me that there is a problem with my Brazilian investments. This call came from an unregistered pay as you go mobile phone. I do not have any Brazilian investments.

Has anyone had contact/conversation with claimed National Grid shareholder service representative recently advising of forthcoming shareholder benefits?

I presume National Grid will contact by post if there are any official communications with shareholders. If in doubt contact NG directly.

S hammond says:
1 April 2021

Just received another her majesty’s customs etc phone call put the phone down straight away

Julia Ashworth says:
1 April 2021

I received an email regarding a product delivery while I was in the process of looking at the product on line. The email wanted me to confirm the delivery of the product that I had bought from them and mentioned I could win something. I don’t know what the prize was as I didn’t go further into the email, but the name used for the company offering the prize was a different company than the one I was considering buying from. I had not even looked on their site for the product. I deleted the email as I suspected a scam. Has anyone else had this type of email? Was it a scam?

It’s likely to be a scam, Julia. If you had replied the sender might have asked you to pay something to claim your prize, or asked for your banks details including password, or tried to gain access to your computer. The chance that someone is going to give you anything worthwhile free of charge is not very high.

I rarely get scam messages but today there was an e-mail purporting to come from the DVLA about vehicle excise duty renewal. It was rather inept and seemed to include the tail end of an e-mail from Sainsbury’s to one of their customers referring to the receipt for payment for an on-line order. Perhaps the scammers had hacked into Sainsbury’s system to capture e-mail addresses, and mine would have been there thus enabling the message.

The real give-aways of a scam were the originating address in Belgium and the fact that, other than a copy-&-paste transfer of the official DVLA name and badge, the message contained nothing to identify my name or address or vehicle registration mark. In my experience the DVLA always specify the subject vehicle in any communication and generally do not use e-mails for correspondence with registered keepers. The fact that no vehicles are registered in my name also played on my suspicious mind.

I have a problem with a Company named ‘Wish’. It appears to be another scam based on offering a ‘Free Gift’, you just pay postage with a Credit or Debit Card, (mine was a laser pen for my cat), they retain your Card details which I thought was illegal ?. Around December 20 & January 21, I browsed several pairs of shoes on their website and ordered ONE PAIR of shoes on the Internet, to find on acknowledging my order, I had been charged £299.75p. to my card number they had kept!. But within minutes, I realised something was seriously wrong and cancelled the order, therefore they did not have time to process or ‘ship the order’. What they seem to have done, is somehow log every pair I had browsed and when I did order ‘ONE PAIR’ they cleverly ‘ remembered’ what I had browsed, hence the ensuing problems.
But they ignored my request, stating my order was processed and being shipped. I tried many times asking for the Company Name, Address, Telephone Number, Returns address etc., to which they did not answer as requested at all. I subsequently had other Emails which kept stating ‘my shoes are being shipped’.
I never received any reply to my actual requests, but one day, I found a parcel had been left on my doorstep in the pooring rain, presumably by a Courier Company, to be followed by FOUR MORE Parcels a few days later, thus a total of ELEVEN PAIRS OF SHOES in total had been received, but they have continued to ignore my requests for a REFUND, or supplied the other information requested.
Sadly, I have read similar problems other people have encountered and I am currently going through a ‘Chargeback’ system to obtain the refund from the card issuer, but meanwhile have just been charged nearly £15 interest, for shoes I did not order or even want.
I currently still have ELEVEN PAIRS of shoes waiting for information on how and where I may return them !.

Mr Orris – ‘Wish’ is an American online e-commerce platform that facilitates transactions between sellers and buyers. It is almost certain that the seller of your shoes is in China and that they were shipped from there. That will be a problem in seeking a refund. It’s best to look up information on companies you are not familiar with before placing any orders.

I doubt you will get any money back from Wish and it is unlikely they will tell you the name and contact details of the seller of the shoes.

You have not said whether you used a credit card or a debit card. If you used a credit card you can claim a full refund for the shoes you didn’t order under s.75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 from the card issuer.

If you used a debit card you might be lucky with a chargeback claim but there is no statutory protection and it will be up to the card issuer.

In both cases it might be necessary to return the unwanted shoes before any repayment is made, but without the seller’s details that could be difficult and it could be very expensive; it would also be hard to prove their return delivery to the seller. Presumably the e-mails you received led nowhere.

UK law will not protect you from international rogues, unfortunately, and your card issuer might be unable to recover the payment. If they do get into contact with the seller it will probably be alleged that you clicked on an ‘add to basket’ [or similar] button thus you genuinely ordered all the shoes supplied; proving you didn’t will be virtually impossible.

Although you now have ten surplus pairs of shoes – unlike many people who are scammed and get a worthless fake article – if they are not what you ordered you are still worse off.

My frank view is that you will end up greatly out of pocket and might also have poor quality or wrong-sized shoes because around £27 a pair, including shipping from China, will not buy good shoes. I am sorry this has happened to you. Thank you for telling Which? as it is a useful warning to other consumers.

Julie says:
3 April 2021

I bought a c.d with Amazon,paye d with PayPal .it never came .I messaged company ,but never get a reply!!!

Julie – Have you contacted PayPal? They can sometimes recover customers’ money or expedite delivery in these circumstances.

Was the CD described as being sold and dispatched by Amazon? If so, you have a good chance of getting satisfaction if you contact Amazon customer services.

If the CD was sold through the Amazon marketplace by a third party seller, Amazon would still like to know that the seller had not delivered the item and was refusing to respond to your enquiries. It will be at Amazon’s discretion whether Amazon would resolve the issue and refund your PayPal account.

Using PayPal for direct purchases from Amazon is safe, but for purchases below £100 when buying from third party sellers it is better to use a credit or debit card for access to a chargeback facility in case something goes wrong.

For purchases above £100 [up to £30,000] when buying from third party sellers it is better to use a credit card wherever possible because you get protection under s.75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 for a full refund in the event of default. PayPal does not offer any statutory protection as it is not a credit facility, just a means of money exchange.

PayPal is convenient and economical for small traders and it is used by other traders who are not able to offer credit card payment facilities for whatever reason.

Has anyone here had this scam attempt? One where someone calls your landline three times in a row, about 15 minutes apart with an automated female voice saying something about amazon, saying that you’ll be charged £399 so you should press one. And it’s a different number each time, most likely single use numbers to stop them from being traced. And of course I didn’t press anything as I knew it was almost definitely some kind of scam, especially as I don’t have an account with amazon and never have and most likely never will as it’s far too complex for me. So I shouted abuse at the caller and that seems to have scared them off at least for now. I don’t take kindly to being hounded and harassed by idiots, especially when they’re out of reach hiding behind their secret locations. I tried reporting it to the police but they were no help and they suggested contacting my ISP so I tried ringing them only to get someone answer and then just go totally silent so I don’t know what happened there.

Crusader – That is the usual type of Amazon scam with a recorded telephone message. It comes in various forms and at different price levels. There is an entire Conversation about it here –

The police should have given you better advice. There is virtually nothing that either your internet service provider or your telecom service provider can do to prevent you receiving such calls on your landline. They might have suggested you report it to Action Fraud but since you refused to engage with the other party [i.e. you shouted abuse at them] no harm has been done.

Mrs Amanda E Baylis says:
7 May 2021

I found with the Amazon scam on my landline I had so many that I decided to let all calls go onto my answering machine….strangely theyve stopped so maybe do this to get rid of them