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Common scams

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only.

Scams are schemes to con you out of your money. They can arrive by post, phone call, text message or email, or from someone coming to your home.

Fake lotteries, bogus psychic predictions, get-rich-quick investments and 'miracle' health cures are just some of the tricks that scammers try.

Read this page to find out about the most common types of scam.

Ticket scams

You see a ticket for a sold-out sporting event, concert or music festival advertised on an online forum, an unofficial website or an auction site. You pay for the ticket but it never arrives, or it arrives but you are unable to use it at the event because it’s a fake. If you bought the tickets from an unofficial or fake website, your payment details may have been stolen. 

Only buy tickets from the official event box office, authorised ticket agents and reputable second-hand ticket websites. Paying by credit card rather than debit card will increase the protection available to you. For more advice on buying event tickets, see Before you buy tickets for an event. For tips on spotting if a ticket site is fake, see Illegal ticketing websites

For some events, you will not be able to gain entry if the name printed on the ticket does not match your ID. You should ask the event box office for their policy on this. 

More information on ticket scams can be found on the Get Safe Online website at www.getsafeonline.org and the Action Fraud website at www.actionfraud.police.uk

See Event tickets for advice on other issues with event tickets, such as event cancellations or tickets arriving too late.

Job and training scams

You are offered an exciting new career, for example as an author or model. You send money upfront for the cost of training, then get little or nothing in return.

In a new variation on this type of scam, scammers advertise job positions such as night porter, cleaner or mystery shopper on sites such as Gumtree or on social media.

The mystery shopper scam is again advertised as a job on sites such as Gumtree.  The victim is sent out forged travellers cheques or stolen bank cheques and asked to put them into their own bank account.  On occasion the funds clear without the forgery or the stolen cheque being noticed.  The victim is then asked to make a purchase somewhere such as Tesco with the funds, to keep some of the funds and to send the remainder of the funds to the fraudster, often at a London address.  However, a week or two after the cheques have been lodged they are uncovered by the banking system and the victim can be left out of pocket.

Often the jobs are advertised pertaining to be from local businesses.  Emails are sent out with application forms and requests for sizing for uniforms.  The victim is often asked to send a copy of their passport.  The victim is notified that they have got the job and need to attend an induction or training course at some time in the future.  In order for the job position to be finalised the victim is asked to forward a sum of money (usually around £50 or £60) by Ukash voucher to pay for advanced background checks or administration but they are told this money will be reimbursed.  Often it can be a week or two, when the victim attends their 'induction' course, that they realise they have been scammed.

Copycat websites

You search online for a Government service such as passport renewal, driving licenses or European Health Insurance Cards. You click on the first website in the search results. It looks legitimate. In fact it’s a copycat website and you end up paying more for a service that should have been free or much cheaper. You may also give out personal and payment details with no guarantee they will be safe.  

These copycat websites often appear at the top of search engines and look identical or very similar to the official sites.

You should not automatically use the first website you find on a search engine. Look for the official site, which will usually end in “gov.uk”. Make sure the payment page is secure by looking for https:// at the beginning of the address bar.

More information on copycat websites can be found on the Get Safe Online website at www.getsafeonline.org.  

Prize draws, sweepstakes and foreign lottery scams

You're told that you've won a prize in a competition that you haven't even entered. To claim the prize you have to pay an administration fee. You pay the fee and either get back nothing or get something worth less than the fee you’ve paid.

You have received a letter or email from a solicitors firm you do not use, or about a legal matter you are not aware of. The correspondence looks legitimate. They offer legal services in return for a fee or claim that legal action has been taken against you that you must pay to settle.

Often the legal firms are fake, or a fake person claims to work at a legitimate firm. 

Do not reply to any letters or emails. You should check whether the legal firm exists using the ‘Find a Solicitor’ tool on the Law Society of Scotland website at www.lawscot.org.uk. All solicitors in Scotland have a professional ID called a Smartcard. You can ask to see this and check the unique number on the card against the database on the Law Society of Scotland website at www.lawscot.org.uk.

More information about current legal services scams can be found on the Law Society of Scotland website at www.lawscot.org.uk

Miracle health cures

Miracle health cures or ‘scientific breakthroughs’ offer you health products to cure a problem such as arthritis, diabetes, or cancer, or to help you lose weight. These are also known as "snake oil" remedies. The seller often promises a no-risk money-back guarantee or a free trial. There are often quotes from doctors and happy customers.

These types of products and medicines are unlikely to do you much good, and might even harm you. Talk to your GP before you buy any of these products.

Property rentals

You rent a property and the landlord asks for a deposit of a month’s rent before checking your references. You sign a contract which says if the references aren’t satisfactory, your deposit will be paid back, minus a fee taken for checking the references.

Your landlord tells you your references are unsatisfactory, even if they are good. You are told you can only have a small portion of your deposit back and lose money.

A landlord or letting agency can ask for a holding deposit before your tenancy starts. This cannot be more than two months rent and must be repaid to you when you start the tenancy or if you decide not to take the tenancy. If it is not repaid it is an illegal fee.

A landlord or letting agency is commiting an offence (see legal note) if they charge a fee when granting, renewing a tenancy or looking for accommodation for you. This is sometimes known as a premium.

For more information about how to reclaim illegal fees from your landlord visit Shelter Scotland’s website at www.reclaimyourfees.com/

It is not illegal to ask for a tenancy deposit of up to 2 months rent in advance. A tenancy deposit is usually used as security against, for example, unpaid fuel or telephone bills, damage to property, cleaning bills, or removal of furniture. In practice, if you are looking for accommodation it can be difficult to stand up to unscrupulous landlords or letting agencies about the payment of a premium and tenants may need to decide whether to pay it and gain the tenancy or go elsewhere.

To get more advice about what to do if you have paid a deposit and want to claim it back you should get the help of an experienced adviser from Shelter or a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

For more information also see Common problems with renting.

Pyramid selling and chain gift schemes

You go to a presentation and are told that after paying a joining fee, you can earn lots of money recruiting others to the scheme. This is pyramid selling which is illegal. You are unlikely to make any money.

You may be offered an expensive gift if you buy a low value gift. To get your expensive gift you have to recruit new members to the scheme. You are unlikely to get the gift.

An example of a simple pyramid scheme

Eight people are asked to each pay £1,000 into a scheme and are told they will each get £8,000 when they reach the ‘top’ of the pyramid.

For each of those eight people to get that amount, another 64 people need to join. Those people each need to pay £1,000 and will all be expecting to collect their £8,000. But that would mean another 512 people would have to join.

Each person needs another eight people in the scheme to get their money back and make a profit. Eventually, the supply of people with £1,000 must end, leaving most people in the scheme losing all their money.

Working from home

You see an advertisement offering work which you can do at home, for example, stuffing envelopes or putting together home assembly kits. You're asked to pay a fee upfront and then find there's no work on offer, you only get paid if you get others to sign up, or you do the work and don’t get paid for it. For example, you assemble a kit and are told the work isn’t up to standard and you won’t be paid.

A genuine home-working scheme won't ask you to pay money upfront and will explain in writing what you are expected to do, how much you will earn, and when you will be paid. You should also be paid at least the national minimum wage.

If you were pressured into buying something you didn't want

Other useful information

Action Fraud A-Z of scams at www.actionfraud.police.uk.
Report scams on the Action Fraud website at www.actionfraud.police.uk

If you are the victim of a scam, you can get support from Victim Support Scotland. 

Victim Support Scotland
15/23 Hardwell Close
Edinburgh
EH8 9RX

Tel: 0131 668 4486
Scottish Helpline: 0345 603 9213 (Monday to Friday 8.00am-8.00pm)
UK Supportline: 0808 168 9111 (Weeknights 8.00pm-8.00am; Weekends Saturday 5.00pm to Monday 8.00am)
Fax: 0131 662 5400
Email: info@victimsupportsco.org.uk
Website: www.victimsupportsco.org.uk

1 Rent (Scotland) Act 1984, part VIII as amended by Housing (Scotland) Act 1988, s27

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