Why do people send scam emails?

The most common type of email scam is 'phishing'. This is an email from a fraudster masquerading as an organisation like your bank. They'll ask you to log on, confirm account details and passwords and then use these to plunder your account.

Many people get caught out by scam emails which generally seek to extract personal information from us in order to get at our money. The more direct approach seeks cold hard cash.

Be on your guard because if you lose money, it’s not guaranteed you’ll get it back.

According to the Financial Ombudsman Service there is no legal obligation for banks to return money lost through email scams.

How can I spot a scam email?

  • Is it unsolicited or unexpected?
  • Being contacted out of the blue should ring alarm bells.
  • Banks, building societies and official institutions such as HM Revenue & Customs say they will never ask for bank details or passwords.
  • Are you being hurried into making a decision or acting?
  • A time limit on an offer or request for details should also raise questions.
  • Conmen will often try to hurry your decision making, so make sure you take your time to consider if it’s a genuine email.

Think these three things when looking at an email you suspect to be a scam…

Is it too good to be true?

For example, ignore any email claiming you've won a guaranteed prize. You'll have to pay a fee to claim your so-called winnings and may have to call a premium rate number and provide financial information. 

You may also find offers to work from home in your inbox. If they promise lots of money for little work, these too are likely to be companies looking for you to make an investment towards supplies first – and then disappear into thin air.

Is it designed to worry you?

Some emails will look like they come from a trusted online shopping site, thanking you for your purchase - a purchase you didn't make, of course. In your panic to see what's been bought on your account, you click the link in the email, comprising your online security. 

If you receive an email thanking you for a purchase you didn't make, close the email, open a new tab and type the site address into the browser directly, and then log into your account safely to see if any purchases have been made - odds are, they won't have been.

Does the email look professional?

Look out for spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as those who address you as 'Dear Client' or 'valued customer'. 

Fraudsters can be clever and use dates, such as tax return deadlines, to mock up emails from HM Revenue & Customs, or the beginning of an academic year to target university students with fake messages purporting to be from the Student Loans Company.

What should you do if you’ve received a scam email?

  • Do not click on any links in the scam email.
  • Do not reply to the email or contact the senders in any way.
  • If you have clicked on a link in the email, do not supply any information on the website that may open.
  • Do not open any attachments that arrive with the email.

Help disrupt fraudsters by reporting scam emails that you receive. If you suspect you’ve received a scam email, but have not lost money, forward it to Action Fraud on NFIBPhishing@city-of-london.pnn.police.uk (you can also send them screenshots of suspicious text messages you have received or let them know about scam phones calls/voicemails by sending phone numbers).

If you think you may have compromised the safety of your bank details and/or have lost money due to fraudulent misuse of your cards, you should immediately contact your bank.

If you've been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud.