15 common money scams to avoid

Students are generally a savvy bunch, particularly when it comes to the online world. But that doesn’t make you invincible to scams, so listen up.

While most people know not to respond to emails from foreign princes who claim to offer good fortune in exchange for your bank details, scammers have definitely upped their game in recent years. As such, sniffing them out is now tougher than ever.

Both online and offline, fraudsters are getting increasingly sophisticated at stealing your hard-earned cash – so it’s crucial to keep your wits about you at all times.

To give you a helping hand, we’ve highlighted some of the most common money scams to look out for, as well as how to avoid them.

Here are some of the most common money scams students should watch out for:

1. Phishing

If you’ve ever wondered what this term means (when it’s not on a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, that is), ‘phishing‘ is what digital thieves do when they’re trying ‘phish’ for your card details online.

You’ll receive an email, disguised as being sent from a trusted payment source, which tries to convince you to share personal details in whatever way it can.

Often it will come with an invented back-story that claims you’ve been hacked and asks you to follow a link to save yourself from impending doom.

Student Finance scams

We regularly hear about phishing scams targeting students, including scammers pretending to be from the Student Loan Company (SLC) asking for personal, security or payment details, so it’s worth being prepared.

The bottom line is that SLC, HMRC, banks, Paypal, eBay, etc. will never ask you to reveal personal details over email, so if you’re asked to do it, don’t.

Common ways to spot a cunning trap include emails with links starting “http://” instead of “https://” (the indicator of a secure site) or slight alterations to well-known addresses, such as “”.

You should also pay close attention to the sender’s address, as an odd-looking email can often be a tell-tale sign. That said, as one scam involving the Student Loans Company showed, sometimes a fake email can look real!

tweet about student loan email scam

If in doubt, report it.

Heads Up.!

Don’t forget to hit the ‘report’ button on your email account if you think something is a scam. That way, you can protect other (potentially less-savvy) people from falling for these traps.

2. Smishing

The name might be even more ridiculous than ‘phishing’, but this is no laughing matter.

The word ‘smishing’ is a mix between ‘SMS’ and ‘phishing’. And as you can probably work out, it refers to phishing scams that take place over text. We’ve reported on them before, like the case of this student who lost £5,400 from a scam text.

Like phishing emails, smishing texts will usually claim to be from a bank or popular company whose services you may have used. They’ll usually supply a link and ask you to click it, at which point you’ll be prompted to enter your payment details.

Just as real banks and other companies will never ask you for personal details via email, they won’t request them by text either.

If you receive a message asking to you disclose any sensitive information, do not respond. Instead, visit the company’s official website and contact them directly. This way you can clarify the situation with them, and if it is a scam, they can hopefully look into taking it down.

Wondering what a smishing text looks like? Radio personality Dave Vitty tweeted one that he received from “Apple”, proving that even someone with a blue tick and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers can be a target.

tweet about smishing scam

3. Money muling

This might sound like a rare situation to get yourself into, but money mule scams are a lot more common than you think – and unfortunately, young unsuspecting students are the perfect target.

In fact, according to Cifas (the UK’s fraud prevention service), there were almost 8,800 cases of people aged 21 or under becoming victims of money muling in 2020. While this was 12% less than the year before, it could have been due to people spending more time inside their homes in 2020.

Money mule victims will be approached by someone (perhaps someone in a bar, a neighbour or even someone you know relatively well) and they’ll tell you that for some reason or other, they’re unable to pay cash into their own account.

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Perhaps they’re working cash in hand so can’t be seen paying too much hard cash into their account in case they get chased for tax. They ask you to pay the cash into your own account and transfer it to them digitally, and they’ll give you a 10% cut for your trouble. Simple, right?

Wrong. Never offer to do this for someone! For a start, money laundering is illegal and if you get caught, it won’t be pretty.

Secondly, you have no idea where this money could be coming from. If it’s linked to drugs or some other crime and your account is linked to the case, the police will probably come looking for you. Don’t take the risk!

4. Fake websites and products

With it now being so much easier and more common to buy from sites abroad, it can also be harder to suss out which are genuine and which are just out to get your hard-earned money.

It’s scarily common for websites to advertise products that are completely different to what they actually sell (which is a crime in itself), or even not really exist at all, and just be there to take your details and run with them.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between copycats and the real deal, but it’s a good idea to check out reviews of the store online which can point you to any negative experiences from other shoppers. is a great (and more importantly, independent) review site that you can use to find out just what a company is all about.

If you’ve still got your suspicions, only buy from a site if they’ll let you use PayPal. This offers an extra layer of protection, as would using a prepaid credit card.

5. Ticket scams

There are very few things in the world more heartbreaking than getting scammed on gig tickets, so make sure you don’t get taken for a ride.

As a general rule, don’t buy tickets from a tout on the street. You could end up with fake tickets or being totally ripped off on the price.

Exercise the same caution online too, as you’ll also find unofficial touts on viagogo, TicketSwap, Gumtree and eBay.

Remember that these sites are just a platform for others to sell and buy tickets on – they’re not liable if you receive a fake ticket (or even none at all).

If you do buy from a smaller retailer, check out the site first and pay with a credit card if at all possible. That way you can cancel the payment if the tickets don’t show.

6. Competition scams

This is a common trick that most people have become savvy to, but we still hear about people being ripped off by bogus comps – especially since some people make a living from entering competitions online.

Fake Facebook competitions are extremely popular these days, and sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s the real deal or not. When you see thousands of people engaging in a competition on what looks like the official British Airways Facebook page, it seems pretty legit. But how can you tell if it isn’t?

Some of the tell-tale signs of a fake account include:

  • A full stop at the end of the page name (e.g. “British Airways Official.”)
  • No info on the ‘about’ section of the page
  • No T&Cs involved with the competition
  • The company’s official website leading you to a different Facebook page.

On Instagram, it’s also common for fraudsters to impersonate the accounts running legitimate giveaways. They’ll set up a fake account that looks like the real deal and reach out to people who entered a giveaway, saying they’ve won but will need banking details before being able to process the price.

If you do enter legitimate giveaways on Instagram, always check if the account that is messaging you is legit and remember they’ll never ask you for payment details if you’ve won a giveaway.

Sadly, prize scams don’t just happen online – they can also take place over the phone and by post. You’ll be told you’ve won something fabulously awesome, and all you need to do is cough up a small deposit to snag your gift.

Crucially, if you don’t remember entering a competition, you probably didn’t, which means you certainly can’t have won it.

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No legitimate competition will ever ask you to stump up cash to get your prize anyway, so steer well clear.

7. Dodgy cash machines

Cash machine tampering has always been popular, but it’s getting harder to spot.

From cameras that film you entering your PIN, to card slots that scan and record your card details – make sure you’re always on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

If the machine has scratches, masking tape or any sort of indication that someone’s been messing around with it, don’t take the risk.

You should also be wary of anyone trying to speak to you whilst you’re withdrawing cash. The moment you’ve become distracted, you’ve become the perfect target to have your cash nabbed on the spot – and sometimes without you even realising. It might sound a bit extreme, but it does happen.

8. Distraction scams

It’s not just cash machines where scammers will look to cause a distraction while they go about fleecing you.

Pretty much any tourist hotspot, both here and abroad, will usually have some scammers targeting unsuspecting members of the public who aren’t familiar with their surroundings. Their choice of distraction technique will vary, but some of the more common ones include:

  • Buskers with a large crowd around them
  • Dramatically bumping into you
  • Staged fights between accomplices
  • Having a child go and talk to you.

Whatever ruse they go for, it serves to divert your attention to something other than your personal belongings. They’ll use this as their chance to steal something from your pocket or bag, and in the case of the conversational child, it may even be the kid who grabs something while their parent is apologising.

Avoiding a scam like this can be tricky, as it essentially forces you to pay attention to just one thing. If you’re heading to a tourist attraction, just make sure that all of your valuables are safe, secured, and with you at all times.

9. Store cards

Ok, so this one’s not technically a scam. But some store cards can involve some dodgy tactics that are definitely worth watching out for.

Reports have shown that shop assistants often encourage customers to lie about their earnings to help them meet their commission targets.

This means you’ll be given a bigger credit limit (because the store thinks you earn more than you actually do), which massively increases the chance of you piling up mountains of debt that you’ll be unable to pay off.

We wouldn’t really advise getting any type of store card at all, so don’t be pressured into it. If you don’t have the budget to spend at that moment of time, just don’t spend.

10. Job advert scams

Scammers prey on the desperate, and a penniless student looking for a job is their prime target. In fact, as many as 1 in 3 online job scams target students and fresh grads.

Fraudsters will try to lure you in with catchy phrases such as “no experience necessary” or offers of full time pay for part-time work. The fact is: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Be wary of any job that asks you to ring a premium rate number (0845, 0844, 0870, 0871 etc.) or anyone who wants you to make some kind of payment upfront.

Other things to be suspicious of include companies without a physical location, or a kebab shop popping up when you check out their address on Google Street View.

11. Bogus landlords

Being cautious of accommodation scams should be a top priority for students, as young people are unfortunately a prime target. Fraudsters know how tough it can be to find affordable housing as a student, which is what makes this such a profitable scam!

Bogus landlords may have their own website or advertise on sites like Gumtree or Facebook, but you could fall into something dodgy just by answering an ad on a local noticeboard.

Alarm bells should be ringing if they try to convince you to make an upfront deposit either to hold a property or prove financial capability.

It’s true that early deposits are sometimes essential for students hoping to secure an apartment over the summer, but doing this through an agency will ensure you’ll actually have a house (and a landlord!) when you arrive in September.

Going through your SU or university accommodation services can also help, as they will ensure you only contact legitimate landlords.

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12. Door-to-door scammers

We all detest people coming and knocking on our door and disturbing our Game of Thrones marathon – whether they’re looking for cash or even just a signature.

But the thing to remember is that scammers who go for the door-knocking method are counting on the fact you’ll feel a bit awkward, or so desperate to get rid of them that you’ll donate a few quid or sign your name up so they’ll leave you in peace.

However, once they have your name, and maybe your phone number and address too, they can use these details frivolously.

Obviously, there are lots of well-intentioned door canvassers out there, too. Just make sure you look for official ID and branded clothing before you make any decisions, and certainly before you let them into your home.

13. “Free” trials

Everyone loves a bargain, particularly a freebie! But take care when signing up for free trials offered online, as often you’ll be committing yourself to a payment at a later date that you can’t get out of.

While many legitimate sites (such as Amazon, Audible and Spotify) do offer a free taster of their services, some scams make it almost impossible to opt out once you’ve signed up.

You’ll often have to provide payment details in order to access the free trial, and this can result in them taking cash from your account as soon as the trial is up – so make sure you always read the fine print before signing up.

In fact, even the legit sites can be a bit sneaky with the way their free trials work. We’ve heard plenty of stories of students who hadn’t realised that their free trial of Amazon Prime was up and that they were now paying for it.

It’s fair to say that these sites probably don’t do as much as they could to remind you that you’ll be paying once your free trial expires, so when you sign up, add a reminder on your phone to guarantee you don’t get caught out.

14. Investment scams

In recent years, investment scams have changed quite a bit and have started to target younger people. Many of these scams are done over social media, where scammers will claim that this is a promise to some quick cash. Especially seeing the financial hardships students face, it can be very tempting.

There are fake cryptocurrency schemes, where scammers will show fake (inflated) numbers to encourage you to deposit more money.

Another investment scam to watch out for is the “money-flipping” scam – victims are told to deposit a small amount of money and are promised to get double (or triple) their investment back shortly, but they never see their money again.

With more students investing in cryptocurrencies and buying NFTs, it’s incredibly important to watch out for people trying to take advantage, especially on social media. Always do your research and don’t risk money you can’t afford to lose.

15. Pyramid/MLM schemes

Pyramid and MLM schemes are some of the most common Instagram money scams. Ever received an annoying Instagram DM out of the blue from someone you went to high school with telling you about an “exciting business opportunity”? Well… you probably dodged a bullet there.

While Pyramid schemes are illegal in the UK, these Multi-Level-Marketing (MLM) businesses are very similar. Someone will reach out to you and explain the amazing perks of joining this online business opportunity, where you’ll receive a commission for every product sale and an even bigger bonus for recruiting new people.

To join the business, you’ll generally have to make an initial investment or purchase a “starter package”, which they promise you’ll earn back in no time. But obviously, that’s easier said than done.

These businesses are more focused on taking on new recruiters than they are on selling products and it’s usually only those at the top who will make a significant profit, while the rest will be left with no or minimal earnings. It’s best to avoid these types of “business opportunities” altogether and don’t trust random people in your inbox!

Hopefully, you’re now clued up on some of the most common money scams to watch out for.

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