Recognise the tactics

Criminals know exactly what buttons to push to get what they want. It doesn’t matter if they’re turning up on your doorstep, in your social media feeds or in the games you play online. Here are some of the psychological tactics they use (sometimes called ‘social engineering’) to get you to act fast without having time to stop and think.

Being aware of them will help you stay alert to fraud.

Authority or a ‘trusted’ voice

Does the message claim to be from someone official? Your bank, doctor, energy supplier or a government department for instance. Criminals can pretend to be important people or a well-known organisation, often using their logo and branding, because they know you’re more likely to take notice of a name you’re familiar with.

False urgency

Are you being told you have a limited time to respond? If this is accompanied by threats of penalties, fines or other negative consequences, you should be suspicious. The same applies if you’re being promised a reward or benefit for a limited time only. Anyone who tries to rush you into a decision should NOT be trusted.


Do they use language that makes you feel fearful, hopeful or curious? Perhaps they’ll tug at your heartstrings, or appeal to your generous nature. Criminals will often use emotional levers to make you follow your heart not your head.


Are you being offered something that’s in short supply or not widely available? Tickets for a concert? An amazing holiday deal? Criminals will often use fear of missing out on a good deal or opportunity to make you respond quickly.

Current events

Does the message seem timely? Criminals often exploit current news stories, big events or specific times of year (like the tax reporting deadline) to make their approach seem more relevant and genuine.

Building relationships

Is someone showing particular interest in you, your family or your circumstances? They may be asking a lot of questions, or making references to aspects of your life that they may have already learnt about from looking at your online profiles. Fraudsters often try to earn your trust by building rapport and finding shared interests before they ask you for money or personal information – before you’ve even met them in real life.

More warning signs to watch out for

Fraudsters ultimately want to steal your hard-earned money, so their approaches often include a way for you to hand over cash, financial information or security details. If you EVER receive one of these requests, it should be a warning sign. Always take time to stop, think and check if it’s real.

Be wary if anyone:

  • asks you to share a one-time-passcode
  • asks for your PIN or password in full
  • asks for payment before sending a prize or lost delivery
  • asks for a direct transfer of cash or cryptocurrency
  • asks you to move away from an official payment site to make a direct payment
  • asks for money before you’ve met in person
  • asks you to click on suspicious links

Stay alert to fraud

Fraud comes in all shapes and forms, with most types of fraud using one or more of the tactics described here. Find out how you can stay alert to fraud.