Impersonation Scams: What They Are and How to Spot Them

Every day, millions of people encounter scams. Whether they’re anonymous phone calls, phishing emails, or suspicious texts, the intent is the same – to steal your hard-earned money.

Scams: What They Are and How to Spot Them


Unfortunately, these scams are becoming more and more sophisticated. In the past, you may have found it easy to spot a phishing email with poor grammar or ignore a call from an unknown number, but these days, scammers are learning how to impersonate organizations you trust and create links to fake websites that can steal your personal details.

In particular, impersonation scams are catching a lot of people out and causing them to lose their life savings. To protect yourself, here’s all you need to know about impersonation scams and how to spot them.

What are impersonation scams?

In an impersonation scam, the aim of the scammer is to convincingly impersonate an organization you trust in order to manipulate you into doing something for their benefit, such as moving your money into an account they can access. Scammers choose to impersonate authoritative, well-known organizations so that it’s more likely you’ll do what they want. For example, they may choose to impersonate your bank, the police, large companies you have accounts with, and even government departments (e.g., tax or immigration).

Often, they’ll pretend that something has gone wrong with your account or your money isn’t safe, which put you into a state of panic where you’re more likely to quickly do what they say without stopping to think.

These scams became very prevalent during the pandemic, when everyone was feeling worried, anxious, and confused. In the UK, reports of these scams increased by 84% between January and June 2020 compared to the same period the year before. During this time, the UK lost £58 million to impersonation scams.

How do these scams work?

In the past, an easy way to avoid these scams was to check the phone number or email address to see if it matched the correct one from the organization. If the contact information was different, you could safely assume that you were being contacted by a scammer.

However, scammers now use a technique called ‘spoofing’ to make their contact information appear to be the same as the official phone number or email address of a trusted organization. Therefore, as an example, you could check the phone number on your phone screen and see that it matches the number on your bank’s website, which could lull you into a false sense of security.

How to avoid these scams

Since you can no longer trust a correct phone number or email address, you can’t use these details to verify someone’s identity. Instead, you’ll need to use other methods.

The first red flag is someone urging you to take immediate action to resolve a money issue, security issue, or legal issue. As mentioned above, this is a common tactic to make you panic and act thoughtlessly, so make sure you stay calm and assess the situation. A legitimate organization shouldn’t pressure you into immediate action, and they should be happy to answer any questions first rather than push for you to act.

Additionally, you should never give out your personal information. For example, your bank will already know your banking information, so someone asking for this on the phone is likely to be a scammer.

Overall, the best advice is to log into your accounts yourself to check if there are actually any issues, rather than taking the word of someone on the phone. This will also help you avoid clicking on links that could take you to a false website or install malware on your device.

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