/ Scams

What’s the emotional impact of an online scam?

The financial impact of online scams is easy to see, but we don’t talk enough about how else this type of fraud affects us. How do scams impact your behaviour online?

14/10/20: Government must take action to protect people

Today we’ve published research into consumer attitudes, knowledge and behaviour relating to scams on social media platforms.

We found that people are seriously underestimating their chances of falling victim to fraud on the sites and suffering the devastating emotional and financial consequences that this can result in.

Our research, comprised of an in-depth online community of Facebook users and a nationally representative online survey of 1,700 users of the site, found that users’ knowledge of what Facebook does to protect people from becoming a victim of a scam was low.

However, when details of Facebook’s actual systems and processes were explained, users were sceptical about their effectiveness and questioned whether they are sufficient.

While our research was conducted with a focus on Facebook due to its size and influence in the social media landscape, we believe that the findings and implications can be reasonably extended to apply to other similar social networking sites and online platforms.

We also heard from courageous scam victims who told Which? about how their experiences affected their confidence in themselves, their ability to trust others and even their mental and / or physical health.

Which? is now calling for online platforms, including social media sites, to be given greater responsibility to prevent scam content appearing on their platforms.

The government has a perfect opportunity to deliver this in the upcoming online harms bill and, if not, ministers must set out their proposals for further legislative action to effectively protect consumers.

05/10/20: Emotional impact

How many online scams are out there? How long’s a piece of string….

We’ve covered hundreds here on Which? Conversation in order to warn people of the dangers they pose by showing examples.

Thanks to the comments here in the community, we’re able to respond rapidly to new ones, and recognise the ones that are causing the most concern.

You can opt to receive these alerts directly via our scam alert service here:


Emotional harm

We’ve often spoken about what happens during a scam, and how new scams look online. This has included everything from ordering something online, only to receive a fake version, or even something entirely different: 

To ‘friends’ contacting you with a fake email, asking for cash, or even asking to take over your computer via remote access.

The financial impact of scams is evident, but we’ve spoken less about how scams might impact us in how we behave and how we feel when going about our business online.

How hard might it be to recover trust in a friend to whom you sent money in good faith, only to find that friend had been hacked? What about regaining your confidence online when you believe you are able to spot a scam, only to become the victim of one yourself?  

Tell us your story

We believe that the emotional impact of scams on consumers needs more attention, so we’d like to hear your experiences.  

If you were the victim of an online scam of any type, what happened, and how did you feel? Were you able to find a resolution?

What changed for you afterwards? Has there been an emotional impact on you personally, such as a loss of trust or confidence, or avoiding certain activities?  

If you haven’t been the victim of an online scam, does having knowledge of the many scams online have an impact on you?

Do you feel that certain online spaces are safer than others? Would a social media site, for example, be safer than an online marketplace?

If you see a scam on a particular site, do you know how to report it? If so, how often do you do so? 

If you were the victim of a scam, would you feel comfortable talking about it?
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Be kind

Please treat this discussion as a safe space. For some, these might be difficult stories to retell.

We want to understand this difficulty and make sure we all consider the impact this has directly from people who have been affected. 

This is not an opportunity to apportion blame or judge others for their choices, as this isn’t constructive to the discussion, nor does it invite others to be open with their experiences.

For this particular conversation we may remove comments to this effect. 

You may wish to comment under a pseudonym, or email us directly on conversation.comments@which.co.uk if you’d rather not discuss your experience in public.

How to comment under a pseudonym:

First, make sure you’re entirely logged out of Which? Conversation.

In the upper right corner, click on your username, and then click “Sign Out”. You can also use Private or Incognito browsing in your browser.

Navigate to the comment box at the bottom the page.

What you type in the comment box and in the name box will appear publicly on the site. The email address you provide will be visible only to moderators and site administrators, and will not be shared further without your consent.

If you would like to follow this conversation by email, or if you would be happy for a writer or researcher from Which? to follow up with you, we would recommend you using an email address on which you can be contacted.

If you would like, you can also get in touch with your story via email

Support is available

Which?’s has extensive Consumer Rights guidance on Scams, including how to identify and report scams, and how to get your money back if you have been a victim.

Additionally, Which? Legal can offer you tailored legal advice on a variety of consumer problems.

Being scammed can take a huge toll on you emotionally and mentally. It helps to speak to someone about what you’re going through.

Mind – confidential information and support

Mind has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am – 6pm, Monday – Friday).

The charity also runs the supportive online community Elefriends where you can talk about and share your experiences of mental health.

Victim Support – 24/7 helpline

Victim Support has a free, 24/7 helpline where you can speak to someone confidentially. This can be a one-off call or they can refer you to local services for on-going support.

This service is free and run by Victim Support which is an independent charity.

You can contact Victim Support by:


Malcolm says:
19 October 2020

I had a problem with PayPal and cancelled my account because of it. I purchased a shower stool online they gave the seat width Height etc I checked and it fit in my shower cubicle. when it arrived it was too big. The company claimed the measurement was for the part you sat on and not the overall width. I raised a dispute through PayPal claiming I was mis sold Paypal found in the sellers favour. The sellers generate a lot more income for PayPal than individual buyers. It’s not rocket science

Terry Gabriel says:
19 October 2020

In October 2018, while checking my bank account on line I noted a pending payment of a fraudulent transaction on my Lloyd’s current account where my Lloyd’s visa debit card had been used to make purchase with a company based in Sheffield South Yorkshire, selling cheap computers and other electrical goods, of nearly £500 (I live in Kent). My debit card is kept secure and never out of my possession. However I do occasionally make online or telephone purchases, mostly with Amazon. I contacted Lloyd’s and they stopped the card immediately and issued a new one with a different number. The new card was received a few days later. Before I had even used the card I noted yet another fraudulent transaction, this time with the new card for a subscription with Netflix. It appears that the scum-bucket involved bought a computer then subscribed to Netflix for films and videos at my expense. When signing up with Netflix, you get a free month before the first subscription is taken but you have to provide a credit or debit card number. The original card number was recorded by Netflix but by the time the first subscription was taken, my new as yet unused debit card had been issued.
Lloyd’s (and Netflix) were very good and reimbursed me within days. I reported the matter to my local police but they weren’t interested and advised report the fraud to the City of London Action Fraud, who collate these crimes on a National basis, which I did. I also reported it to South Yorkshire police but again they were not bothered telling me to report it to my local police who could then request an action by them. In essence all it needed was the police to contact the Sheffield company, get the full details of what was purchased, the name and address of the person who made the original transaction, get hold of the courier company, speak to the delivery driver, get details and description of the person who received the goods, then take it from there. Its not rocket science is it?
I was concerned that Netflix were able to charge me on a card I had never used. I complained to Lloyd’s but they said it was all down to Visa and because where there is a regular subscription, Visa will automatically give any new card details to the company concerned. This is a nonsense and just allows more fraud to be committed. Visa, just batted me off back to Lloyd’s. The Banking Ombudsman was useless and I never heard a word from Action Fraud in the City. I was not out of pocket, so just gave up. The sad thing is the scrote responsible for stealing from my account had most likely done the same to other citizens and could very easily been caught. I have no idea how my card became compromised and can only suspect it was by some bent employee working for a company I dealt with.

Terry: yes, it is not unusual that payments can be simply carried over to a replacement card, but with my credit cards it does not happen if I have stopped a card due to fraudulent activity.
I NEVER use my debit card for online purchases, I only ever use a credit card. My experience is that credit card companies (certainly Visa and Amex) are very responsive and quick to resolve issues. I do not think that banks are as good. Additionally, the consumer protection given to purchases and transactions via credit card is far greater than if I were to use a debit card.
With a credit card I think that my maximum loss could be up to the credit limit on my card, but with a debit card it could be everything in my current account and perhaps even to an overdraft limit?
I have had some instances of fraudulent transactions on both my main Visa and main Amex cards, over the past 10 years. In every case, as soon as I phoned the card issuer, the disputed amounts were put on hold and removed from my pending balance so that I could continue using my card OR immediately use the replacement when it arrived (by courier). I had a case where a cash machine at the supermarket failed to give me any money (400 or 500 pounds, I forget now) but recorded the transaction as successful. I phoned the bank immediately and while still at the machine, and was assured it would be reconciled and corrected inside 24 hours. It took them 3 WEEKS to restore the amount to my account.
I use my debit card solely for withdrawing cash. I use credit card for everything else, and with online management if I spend , for example, £40 at the supermarket on my credit card, then that evening at home I use online banking and pay £40 to my credit card account. So I am always in control of my credit card balance, AND my credit rating is maintained or even improved. There is no need to only pay your credit card bill at the end of the month.

Terry: a further thought that occurred to me . . . . in 2004 I had a chequebook intercepted in the mail (the banks used to send them out automatically, so i did not even know it was on the way or lost), and a cheque with forged signature was passed. My bank reimbursed me and the Police investigated. BUT because I was reimbursed I was no longer regarded as a victim of crime. It was left to the Bank and their insurer whether they wanted to follow-up. Twelve months later almost to the day, in 2005 another cheque from the same book was passed. I had already stopped all the cheques in that “missing” book, but my Bank told me the “stop” only lasts 12 months – which the fraudsters knew. Again I was reimbursed so no longer a victim. I followed this up and was even able to speak to the Police Officer who had investigated my first case. . . . . .he told me that if the Bank or their insurer did not want to bother, the Police dropped the case (even though they had ID and an address for one of the fraudsters).

There might be the same approach in concept to your case – if you are reimbursed, you are no longer seen as a victim of crime, perhaps. Hence the Police might not be interested.

Scottie says:
20 October 2020

I wish Which? would use some of their clout to produce public information films to advise people what not to do.

Bank transfers instead of PayPal or similar, when using eBay/Facebook/etc, should always be regarded as a dubious request.

It’s all well and good that they push to get banks to refund scammed people but that reflects on what interest we get and the ability of banks to pay for other services. eg cash machines, closing of branches, etc.

Scottie, I agree wholeheartedly with your last sentence.
One thing that annoys me a little with “Which?” is that they might ask you to sign up to a petition to , for example, force banks to assume all liability and refund anyone who has been scammed.
But there is no option to offer an alternative opinion or debate the issue, or to say “no, I do not actually agree with a blanket requirement that banks take total liability”. You have to either sign-up and agree or not.

Robyn T says:
22 October 2020

I was scammed by a woman living on the outskirts of Edinburgh. She offered via Facebook to finish off cross stitch kits for free as she was laid up at home bored and unable to do much due to an accident. So I sent her 3 kits. One for herself to keep as a way of saying thank you and 2 others which I had started but hadn’t finished. The value of these was around £60+.
I was first alerted about 2 weeks or so afterwards by another person who had sent a kit to her too. She’d asked for it back and had got no response and as I seemed to know her could I please contact her. I explained that I didn’t really know her but that the woman had been ill and back in hospital from the messages I’d received. Time and messages dragged on, one of which was to the other person who had sent a kit basically laughing at her for sending it. I contacted her myself and asked for my kits back and even included a stamped addressed bag but nothing wass returned. So I contacted her sister and asked her to intervene on our behalf and although she responded nothing was returned. So I wrote to her husband hoping for some response but again nothing.

I know a lot about this woman but it’s clear that she never had any intention of returning the kits and believe she’s sold them. I’ve contacted several Facebook groups to warn them of her antics and it appears she has done this before with other items.
So I reported it to the cyber fraud department and to Facebook. Nothing has happened, except for a phonecard about 18 months later from someone who said they were from the cyber fraud department but it soon became clear that she wasn’t and was just after my bank details which there was no way I would have given her.

I now trust no one especially on Facebook and although I still buy on-line (I have little choice as I’m in a wheelchair), I am extra cautious and always busy using my credit card as I know I have extra protection. I never ever pay by bank transfer and if asked then I report them, and a business that asked for cash on delivery without an invoice or receipt as they were clearly avoiding VAT.

Sorry to hear your story Robyn, there really are some awful people around.

A few years ago, after checking them out, I bought something online from a shop who advertised one product but sent out a different version of it. They ignored my emails so I found their nearest police station and reported them. It didn’t get me the version I wanted, but the police were very helpful and paid them a visit.

I would be extremely wary of anyone asking for cash on delivery unless it is a local business you know and trust but if they are honest, they should be happy to accept a cheque.

To check out who you are shopping online with, this Shopping Checklist might help you shop safely.

john says:
Today 10:56

Hello, Which Magazine I get repeated telephone calls which are scams. After the caller hangs up I key into the phone which gives me the last caller number and they are all withheld No,s. Can Which Magazine start a petition to pressurize the government to stop all withheld numbers from contacting legitimate telephone numbers? this would surely put a stop to telephone scams Because only people who withhold numbers are either criminals or have some other alternative reason to withhold their number.

Hi John, what you’re suggesting would would also prevent any and all legitimate uses of witheld numbers, e.g. by doctors and other medical services.

But you can also block withheld numbers yourself.

Which has recently produced a guide to blocking nuisance calls, see:-https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/cordless-phones/article/how-to-block-nuisance-calls-aHkHz1m7wCes

For example, BT customers can sign up to the free Call Protect service and set that to block withheld numbers, see:-https://www.bt.com/help/security/bt-call-protect—-how-to—–guide