Fraud is when someone tricks or deceives you to gain a dishonest advantage – usually money, goods, services or property. There are many words used to describe fraud, such as scam, con, swindle, extortion, sham, double-cross, hoax, cheat and hoodwink.

To avoid falling victim to fraud and for information on how to stay safe, take a look at our top five fraud prevention tips.

The simple answer is that anyone is susceptible to fraud, and every day criminals invent new ways of taking money from innocent people. These criminals are clever and well organised, and they will try to trick and mislead you. When fraud is committed online, the people responsible may be thousands of miles away, which makes bringing offenders to justice very difficult, and sometimes impossible.

Although embarrassment or shame can be common reactions, you have no need to feel this way. Even the most careful people can be caught out, and sometimes fraudsters only need the smallest piece of information, such as your address, email or phone number, to commit a crime. Some people blame themselves after falling victim to fraud, but you’re not to blame – only the offender is responsible for this crime taking place.

Common scams

Fraudsters often adopt a fake identity to commit crimes. They might:

  • pretend to work for a well-known company or charity
  • persuade you to buy goods that are not for sale, don’t exist or are worthless
  • provide a service, often of poor quality (such as building work or resurfacing driveways) but charge you many times the price they quoted, often using threats to get payment
  • trick you into giving them money, even large amounts, possibly over a long period of time, with the promise of making you more money – for example, bogus lottery wins or inheritance scams where they might demand money from you in order to receive your fictitious prize or inheritance
  • persuade you to invest your pension in fake pension plans that have little value, are not suited to your long-term needs or are worthless.

Identify theft

Identity theft is when someone commits fraud by using your personal details to carry out a crime. This can include deceiving others to open bank accounts, or applying for loans or purchasing goods and services using your bank details and money. It can also extend to ‘borrowing’ your identity to hide debts or poor credit ratings and, in extreme cases, creating fake identity documents. This crime can be extremely damaging, as not only do you feel powerless to stop the crimes being committed, you may not even be aware that it’s happening until it is too late.

If you think you’ve experienced identity theft you should report it to Action Fraud and contact your bank or building society explaining your concerns. Some banks and insurance companies provide practical advice and support to help you through what can be an unsettling period.

If you’ve lost key documents and other personal items through a scam (such as bank cards, official papers, etc), acting quickly can help prevent further loss. We’ve created a checklist of things to look out for and some simple steps you can take to help get things back under control.

In an emergency, if a crime is happening now or if anyone is in immediate danger, you should phone 999. If you think that you’ve already experienced fraud, you should report the crime or incident to Action Fraud, either through their online portal or telephone helpdesk. Except for an emergency, it is no longer possible to report fraud to your local police station – Action Fraud is the national fraud reporting service, and is the starting point for any police investigation into your loss. Action Fraud also gathers and provides national information about the different types and extent of fraud, and gives advice on how to protect yourself from future fraud.

If you’ve been tricked into supplying your personal details or goods it’s unlikely that you will be able to recover anything stolen by the offender, unless a fraudulent transaction qualifies for a refund from your bank or credit card company. If an offender is arrested, goes to court and is convicted, the court will have the power to order the offender to pay you compensation.

Whilst Victim Support cannot compensate your for your financial loss, we’re here to help you get your life back on track. However you’re feeling or whenever the crime took place, you can talk to us in complete confidence.

You don’t have to report a crime to get our help – anyone affected by crime can contact us directly if they want to.

You can contact us by:

Alternatively you can create a free account on My Support Space – an online resource containing interactive guides to help you manage the impact that crime has had on you.

If English is not your first language and you would like some support, call our Supportline and let us know which language you speak, and we will call you back with an interpreter as soon as possible. We also welcome calls via Relay UK on 18001 08 08 16 89 111.

Families and friends affected by crime can also contact us for support and information. If you’re a child or young person under 18 and are looking for support, visit our You & Co website, where we have lots of information and tips specifically for children and young people.