Spotting investment and cryptocurrency scams – how to stay safe

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Fraudulent scams spiked during the pandemic, as more of us spent more time online.

Frauds reported to the UK police unit Action Fraud rose by a third in 2020, to the value of £2.3bn. Sadly the trend doesn’t look like it will be disappearing any time soon.

Scams come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from cold calling and texting to cyber fraud, and focusing on everything from insurance to pension and charity scams.

Fraudsters have used the promise of too-good-to-be-true investment returns, or ‘get rich quick’ schemes, as the basis for many scams over the years. But they also react to the world around them, targeting newer types of investments like cryptocurrencies.

Crypto crooks

Cryptocurrencies are extremely high risk and volatile in their own right. We don’t offer them at HL.

But you’ve probably seen plenty of news around crypto investments, like Bitcoin. Fraudsters will look to take advantage of this.

As with investment scams, cryptocurrency fraudsters often use social media, images of celebrities for promotion, or professional-looking websites to make themselves seem more legitimate.

Whether you’re 25 or 75, remember that any so-called opportunity promising sky-high returns is probably too good to be true. Do your research to make sure you’re not caught out.

Spot the signs – what to look out for

  • Cold calls – beware of unexpected calls claiming to be your bank, HMRC, or another reputable company, like HL.
  • Pressure to send payments – if anyone asks you to send a payment or move your savings, and pressures you to do it quickly – it’s probably a scam.
  • Intercepted messages – be careful of the emails and messages you’re sending and receiving as they can be intercepted. Look out for anything unusual.
  • Security details – never disclose your full security details over the phone. We’ll never ask you to do that and it’s very unlikely other companies will either.
  • Ask questions – just because someone knows your basic details (like your name and address), doesn’t mean they’re genuine. A quick online search and your own personal research around the contact you’ve received can quickly reveal if it could be a scam.

If you think it might be a scam, don’t try to catch them out. Stop contact with them and report your concerns straight away using contact details provided on the company’s website or letters they’ve sent you.

Most importantly, trust your instincts. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. Fraudsters are clever, and for many it’s a full-time job. They might sound convincing, authoritative or professional, and will use lots of different tactics to get your trust and ultimately your money.

If you think you’ve been scammed, you should report it to Action Fraud, either online or by calling 0300 123 2040. You can also report it to the FCA, either online or by telephoning 0800 111 6768.

Useful resources

Get safe online – a leading source of up-to-date, straightforward information about online safety.

Met police – personal fraud and how to prevent it – what to look out for and how to stay safe.

Take five – stop fraud – impartial advice to help everyone in the UK protect themselves against fraud.

Age UK – booklets produced by Age UK about scams.

Help with the emotional impact of fraud

If you do fall victim to fraud, this can have a huge emotional impact, as well as being financially crippling. Victims often feel embarrassed and don’t want to tell people what’s happened, even though they’re not to blame.

If you need to talk to someone, you can contact Victim Support either online or via their support line on 0808 168 9111. You can also contact The Samaritans at any time of the day or night on 116 123.

If a scam has left you struggling financially, contact Citizens Advice. You can speak to an adviser to help you find a way forward, through their Adviceline. They’re available 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. If you live in England, call 0800 144 8848. If you live in Wales, call 0800 702 2020.