/ Money, Travel & Leisure

You don’t have to be stupid to fall for a scam

Job advertisements in newspaper

Scams like fake careers, tickets and phishing are on the rise – and we’re all potential victims. But before writing them off as something only stupid people fall for, consider that one in 20 lost money to a scam last year.

If you’ve ever fallen victim to a scam – big or small – the default reaction is a mixture of rage, shame and embarrassment.

Trust me, I know the feeling. About two years ago, I ended up losing £90 when I bought concert tickets from a fake website. Plus I never got to see the concert.

Worse than that, I’ve seen close family members and friends conned by timeshare tricksters, boiler room bluffers and career-opportunity conmen. The fact is, no matter how savvy you think you are, scammers are often smarter – after all, it’s what they do for a living – and anyone can fall prey to a well-timed and well-executed con.

Scams on the rise

Recent figures from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) show that more than 3.5 million adults fall victim to scams every year, losing a total of £3.5 billion. And, according to charity Age UK, it’s older people who are more likely to be targeted. The research reported that those aged between 70 and 79 made up a fifth of all victims.

In addition, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) recently wrote to 49,000 people whose names appeared on a boiler room hit list. The FSA said this was the biggest single document compiled by share fraudsters to date.

With scams on the rise and scammers getting ever more devious in their methods, the OFT has launched Scams Awareness Month today to help consumers recognise and reject scams.

So what are the most common scams? Landbanking schemes fool you into buying a cheap plot of land with the promise of planning permission, which is unlikely to materialise. Money-transfer scams involve unsolicited letters or emails asking for help getting money out of a foreign country. And we’ve all seen those too-good-to-be-true ‘work from home and earn hundreds’ ads – guess what? They’re often scams too.

Scams going unreported

These may seem obvious, but they’re easy to fall for – and there are many other common scams besides these. The real problem is that many victims don’t report scams to the police because they feel embarrassed. But we can only beat them if we work together – and share information about their latest tactics as soon as we see them.

The best way to beat the fraudsters is to get the word out to others and stop them becoming victims.

If you feel you’ve been conned, contact your local police or Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.


I have to agree – The “I am a Nigerian Businessman” were very easy to spot – But a couple of months ago I had two on the same day that were very persuasive.

I would not on principle answer any unsolicited e-mail without independent checking

But I did report one to Virgin Media – and the other to First Direct


Someone once tried to scam me on a flat. When I first moved to London I found somewhere on Gumtree that looked great – a bit too good perhaps but not so good that I was suspicious. I sent them an email and arranged a viewing. The ‘landlord’ cancelled the day before the viewing but said if I sent her the first months rent and deposit via Western Union she’d hold the flat for me.

I had never heard of this scam before, and was pretty shocked that someone would think I’d send money on a flat I’ve never seen. But I can see why people might fall for it if they’re desperate for somewhere to live, especially as it can be so hard to avoid dodgy estate agents in London. Needless to say I forwarded her email to the Met police fraud people, but I never heard back. I just hope no one actually got taken in.


“But before writing them off as something only stupid people fall for, consider that one in 20 lost money to a scam last year.”
So one in twenty of the population are stupid. What’s your point?
“And we’re all potential victims.” No we are not, just the one in twenty stupid people.


No – you are wrong – It depends entirely on the scam – They are not just e-mails or letters many are very sophisticated.from double glazing onwards .. Until you experience the sophisticated ones I do hope we don’t have to say “I told you”



Shame on you for holding such a bigoted view.

Derek says:
3 February 2011

The biggest scam is in banking!

They lure the unsuspecting saver in with offers of 2.8% on ISAs and before you know it the interest plummets to 0.5% on that particular account but look we’re offering 2.8% on another account and you have to keep chasing them. What’s that if not a scam? Any respectable bank that wanted to keep customers happy would make sure that the rate would contnue without a ‘new’ offer coming out.

You can tell by my bitterness that I’ve fallen for this one.

Organist says:
3 February 2011

I agree with Derek that the banks are the biggest scammers with these high initial interest rates, which drop to insignificant rates after a year without any further notice. The bank I use at the moment (not for long though) did just that. Then they brought out a new account with higher interest rate, but do not allow existing customers to transfer! Surely that attracts new customers but equally drives away existing customers.

It’s time something was done about this massive scam.

Oxonjohn says:
4 February 2011

I agree that there are some sneaky marketing practices used by banks, insurance companies, even supermarkets, but there’s usually some small print where they come clean. The scams referred to by Nick are those where you get nothing for your money, basically you voluntarily submit to theft.

Considering that much more than 5% of the population at large might be considered “stupid” (believe me, I’ve worked at an exams board), the Which? community excepted of course, then the statistic that 5% have been victims of scams is actually not that bad. It’s true that you don’t have to be stupid to be scammed, but even if you are it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be. A bit of common sense is enough to protect yourself, no need for intelligence. The basic defence points are:

1. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
2. Be wary of emails out of the blue from people you don’t know, no matter how much money is involved. Nobody gives money away to strangers, not even Bill Gates.
3. If you haven’t entered a competition, you can’t have won it, duh!
4. Be wary of emails starting “Dear valued Client”
5. HMRC don’t send emails inviting people to claim a refund
6. The internet is no different from any other market place, there have been rogues and thieves for a lot longer than it has existed. Even the Romans had a helpful phrase: Caveat emptor – buyer beware!

That should do for starters, I’m sure other correspondents will add to the list.

Bob S says:
4 February 2011

But we should have progressed to caveat venditor!