Conned by dating, health, psychic or work scams?

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

Many people become the victims of criminals intent on conning them out of their cash. Criminals use clever con tricks and will try to appear genuine to gain your trust - until they have got your money.

In all cases, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It's important to remember that all scams are fraud and therefore a crime.

Internet dating scam

You may be successful in finding love through internet dating or social networking sites but the popularity of this route to finding a partner means that it is also a popular mechanism for criminals to con unsuspecting victims out of their money. If you fall victim to an internet dating scam, the cost can often be emotional as well as financial, a bond having been formed with someone who you believed had genuine feelings for you.

Most reputable dating sites have systems in place to offer basic protection to those who wish to join but these can be circumvented by the criminal. Reputable sites will also offer you advice on how to stay safe. You should pay attention to this advice and remember that prospective dates may not be all that they seem. The personal information that you upload on to the site is matched to potential partners. Criminals, however, will use fake photographs and false personal information designed to appeal to those people they believe are likely to fall for the scam.

If you are targeted by a criminal, they will try to romance you. They may claim an 'instant connection', very quickly express feelings of love and build up a false relationship with you. They then progress to the subject of money. The criminal will ask for money for a variety of reasons, such as saying they want to meet you but cannot afford the travel costs, they have unexpected bills because of a family tragedy or they need help with medical bills. You may make a payment but this will lead to further requests for money, each coupled with a plausible excuse. When the criminal realises they have been found out, they break contact and there is very little chance you will hear from them or see your money again.

Weight loss scam

There are many genuine websites and publications that can offer you advice and information on how to lose weight. However, there are also fake websites, misleading mailshots and dubious publications, which attempt to tap into your desire for a 'quick fix' to weight loss.

Criminals will use clever marketing techniques, fake images and false claims about how effective the product is for achieving rapid weight loss. For example, using airbrushed 'before and after' photographs of someone who they claim has been successful, false testimonials from non-existent 'experts', a free 14-day trial or a money-back guarantee, none of which turn out to be true. You may be tempted to order an expensive product, such as patches or pills that ultimately do not work or that may be harmful to your health.

If you give your credit or debit card details you run the risk of the criminal making continuous payment requests to your card provider and continuing the supply of the product, as per their terms and conditions, which are usually hidden and may be difficult to understand. You may also become a victim of identity theft or further fraud.

If you have given your card details, you must contact your card provider for advice as a matter of urgency.

Miracle health scam

You may come across advertisements in the newspaper or online or you may receive letters, mailshots or emails offering a 'miracle cure' in the form of patches, tablets or creams for all manner of illnesses and conditions ranging from baldness to cancer.

Criminals prey on people who may be ill, so the scam will be designed to appeal to those who are desperately searching for a cure. The advertisement will make false, unrealistic claims about the product's proven ability to cure a particular condition or illness, often backed up by so-called scientific research or fake experts to add legitimacy. False testimonials from non-existent customers are used to give the illusion that the product provides a good outcome. The temptation to place an order could be strengthened by an opportunity to buy at a specially discounted price or that you can have your money back if you are not fully satisfied. To give you less time to think about the offer you are told that you must respond immediately.

If you go ahead and buy, you may ultimately find that the product is expensive, worthless and possibly harmful to your health. The money-back guarantee may be a false promise. Always seek the advice of your GP regarding your condition or illness and never be tempted to buy 'cures' from a source you do not know.

Clairvoyant scam

You may receive an unsolicited email, letter or phone call from someone who claims to be a clairvoyant or a psychic. It is common for the mailing to be addressed to you personally but, in reality, the same information will have been sent to many other people.

The scam is designed to tap into your feelings and offer a spiritual or psychic solution to your difficulties. You may be told that there is a threat to your future happiness. The clairvoyant will tell you that they can help rid you of this threat and help you access happiness and good fortune. The catch, however, is that they will then request payment for their help or so that they can send you a good luck charm. Criminals set short deadlines for responses so you will be asked to make this payment as soon as possible; this is set up to give you less time to think about your decision. Apart from a cheap trinket, you won't get anything for your money.

If you do respond to one of these scams, it is likely that you will end up on a 'victim list' and end up receiving more and more scam mail.

Working from home scam

You may respond to what you believe is a genuine advertisement offering work that you can do at home, only to find out it is a scam.

The criminal will advertise in the local newspaper or online or send you an unsolicited SMS message. It will state that your potential earnings could run into hundreds of pounds a month for work such as addressing and filling envelopes or assembling basic products at home. The hook of course is the promise of high earnings, which could fit around existing commitments. You may be asked to ring a mobile number or respond by email. Once you do so, you will be told that you need to register and that an upfront fee is payable. Once the fee is paid, you may receive your first piece of work to complete, although you may not receive anything at all. As the criminal has no intention of paying you, they will always claim that the work is below standard. Ultimately, you lose the registration fee and do not get paid for your work.

Job scam

These come in different guises, such as those that:

  • claim they can publish and promote your written works
  • claim they can hire you as a mystery shopper to evaluate the quality of service provided by a trader
  • claim to be a model or casting agent to promote you for modelling or acting work
  • appear on jobs boards but are fake

You may be asked to attend a seminar or have a telephone interview and you will always be told that you or your work are suitable to promote. At that point you will be asked to pay an upfront fee. The promised work, career launch or promotion never materialises and you have lost your fee. Is the salary for the job higher than the going rate? Is the job description vague? Have you been offered a job without having to attend an interview? If so, beware, as the job is likely to be fake.

How to avoid becoming a victim of a scam
  • did the call, letter or email come out of the blue?
  • stop, think, and be sceptical. If the person, the product or the service sound too good to be true they probably are
  • do not give personal or financial information to someone you do not know, however plausible they might sound. This applies even if they claim to represent a business or organisation you have heard of or where an approach is personalised
  • genuine businesses or organisations will never telephone you and ask for personal or financial information
  • think about how much money you could lose responding to a potential scam. It's not a risk worth taking
  • never make cash payments by money transfer
  • use a good spam filter to block out unwanted unsolicited emails
  • if you receive a letter, an email or a telephone call that you suspect is bogus, speak to family or friends, Action Fraud or Citizens Advice consumer service and seek advice
  • ask yourself how likely it is that you have been especially chosen for this offer. Thousands of other people will probably have received the same offer
  • be sceptical about advertisements that promise high earnings for what appears to be very basic work
  • register with the Mail Preference Service. This is a free service where you can register your preference not to receive unsolicited direct mail. It will not prevent you receiving unsolicited mail from abroad, unaddressed mail, or mail sent to 'The Occupier'. You can register on 0845 703 4599 or online
  • trading standards and the Royal Mail are working jointly to tackle scam mail in the postal system. If you or someone you know is receiving scam mail, you can report it to Royal Mail by sending it with a covering letter to Freepost SCAM MAIL, by emailing it to scam.mail@royalmail.com or by telephoning 03456 113 413. For more information on scam mail visit the Royal Mail website
  • if you would like to opt out of receiving unaddressed door-to-door mail items, you can write to Freepost ROYAL MAIL CUSTOMER SERVICES or email optout@royalmail.com. For more information on opting out visit the Royal Mail website
  • register with the Telephone Preference Service. This is a free service where you can register your preference not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing calls, although it may not stop overseas calls. You can register on 0345 070 0707 or online
  • ask your telecoms provider to set up call screening on your telephone so that you know who is calling your number before you decide to answer it. If the number is withheld it will be displayed as 'number withheld'
  • you can arrange with your telecoms provider to reject anonymous calls to your telephone or alternatively look to buy a call blocker
I gave out my credit / debit card details - can I get my money back?

If you were duped into giving your bank, building society, credit card or debit card details, contact your bank, building society or finance provider immediately and seek their advice. If you have been the victim of a fraud, they may be able to help.

If you paid for what turned out to be bogus goods or services by credit card, and if the cost was more than £100 and less than £30,000, you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the card provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or a misrepresentation. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the card provider or both. This does not apply to charge cards or debit cards. In the case of fraud of you may have great difficulty recovering your money from the criminals but you may be able to recover it from the finance provider. If you are dissatisfied with the credit card provider's response and the Consumer Credit Act 1974 applies then complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

If you used a debit card to buy what turned out to be bogus goods or services or if you used a credit card and the price of the goods or services was less than £100 (your rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply), you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract or a fraud - for example, goods were not delivered, the service was not carried out or you were misled - you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim.

If you use a debit card or a credit card to service an online payment system to buy goods or services, it is unlikely that you will be able to use either the Consumer Credit Act 1974 or the chargeback scheme to claim from your card provider in the event of a dispute. However, the online payment system may have its own dispute resolution process that may assist you in resolving your problem.

If you have been tricked into agreeing to a continuous payment authority - where regular payments are taken from your credit or debit card - you have rights under the Payment Services Regulations 2009. Even if you have not asked the criminal for the payment to be cancelled, they refuse to do so or you cannot contact them, your bank or card provider must cancel the payment authority. If your bank or card provider does not act on your instruction to cancel, you are entitled to have any subsequent payments reimbursed, but you must report it as soon as possible or in any event within 13 months of the date the unauthorised payment was made.

I've been the victim of mass marketing fraud - what can I do?

If you receive a scam email, letter or telephone call, you can report it to Action Fraud. You can also report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.

If you are conned into phoning a premium rate number, you can report it to the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA), which regulates premium rate services in the UK.

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because a trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your right to redress' guide gives more information. You can report complaints about unfair trading practices to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards. However, it may be difficult to take legal action against a fraudster.

If you think your details have been shared unlawfully you should report it to the Information Commissioner's Office for further investigation or call 0303 123 1113. If you have been the victim of a fraud you can report it to the police.

If you think your identity has been stolen please follow the guidance given on the Action Fraud website.

How do I prevent someone I know from being scammed?

There are signs that will alert you to the possibility that the person may be the victim of a scam:

  • do they tell you they receive a lot of mail or have you seen a lot of mail in their home?
  • do they receive unexplained and frequent phone calls?
  • are they secretive about the nature of the mail, the phone calls or the products in their home?

Often people refuse to accept that they are the victims of fraud or are too embarrassed to admit it. Try to reassure the person that criminals are clever and fraud is commonplace but that there are simple steps they can take to protect themselves. Share with them and discuss the advice in the 'How to avoid becoming a victim of a scam' section above. Explain that they can have their mail redirected to a friend or relative if they are worried.

If you are having difficulty getting the person to understand and appreciate that they are the victim of fraud, seek help from the organisations listed in the 'I've been the victim of fraud - what can I do?' section above.

You may also want to consider doing the online training on the Friends Against Scams website. This will give you more information on how to help someone you know who is, or could be, being scammed.

Other types of scam

See the guides 'Conned by competitions?' and 'Conned by phone fraud?' for further information.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: August 2017

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

©2017 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.