Barclays reveals scammers’ secrets with advice on avoiding common psychological tricks

15 February 2022
  • Barclays is helping the public stay safe by identifying the tactics scammers use
  • The bank’s data reveals a 17 per cent increase in the total number of scams reported in the last three months
  • Shoppers are reminded to be vigilant as over half of reported scams (53 per cent) were purchase scams

Barclays is urging the public to be wary of the psychological tricks that scammers use as the bank’s latest data reveals a 17 per cent rise in reported scams over the last three months1. With polling also showing a 70 per cent increase in scam attempts over the last quarter2, Barclays’ Chief Behavioural Scientist Dr Pete Brooks is explaining how to avoid being manipulated by scammers.

Criminals carrying out scams usually apply pressure tactics, illusions of scarcity or pretending to be a trusted authority to ‘socially engineer’ their victims. In these situations, Barclays’ advice is always to question whether something appears too good to be true, and not to be afraid to be suspicious.

The guidance comes as consumer polling shows that 7 in 10 Brits claim to have seen an increase in suspicious or scam-related activity in the last three months, but almost a third of respondents (31 per cent) admit they wouldn’t know what to do if they found themselves in that position.

Purchase Scams

Purchase scams, where people buy goods online which don’t exist or never arrive, accounted for over half (53 per cent) of reported scams in Barclays data – with an average value of £980.

Dr Pete Brooks explains: “Scammers create a perceived scarcity and therefore ‘value’ in what they are selling to motivate consumers to act quickly and not rely on their better judgment. This might be advertising something as a ‘one-time offer’, a limited edition price or availability, or rushing us into buying something that ‘has’ to be bought now – even if you’ve never seen the product in real life”.

Barclays advice is to never be rushed, to read reviews of the site where you’re shopping and if you have any concerns, or if you’re ever unsure, it’s always important to take the time to check before proceeding with a purchase. If it’s a big-ticket item like a car, unless you’re buying directly through a well-known brand, it’s good practice to see it in person before spending any money.

Impersonation Scams

Barclays research found that over two thirds of Brits (64 per cent) would be more likely to comply with a request if we believed it was coming from an institution we knew such as our bank, the Police or even the NHS.

It’s not surprising however, that scammers exploit this insight, as Dr Pete Brooks explains: “In these situations, scammers will harness that sense of authority to instil fear in their victims – perhaps suggesting their bank account has been compromised, they are overdue a payment or that they will be fined if they do not pay the full amount – psychologically, many of us will take these at face-value if they’re coming from what we believe to be a reputable institution.”

Real phone calls from a bank will never ask customers to do things like share their PIN/security information or to transfer money to a ‘safe account’3.

Investment Scams

Investment scams often account for the highest average value type of scam, which is why they’re such enticing options for fraudsters – with £15,788 lost on average to these types of scams in the last quarter.

Dr Pete Brooks explains: “Investing should generally be a very measured activity and people who are looking to invest their money will often do a lot of research before making their decision, or at least ask for a second opinion. However, scammers are experts at exploiting the fact people want to grow their assets, and that we can sometimes put our better judgement aside for a high return opportunity”

This is reflected in the research, with three in ten (32 per cent) admitting they would be willing to go with an investment or savings provider they’d never heard of if they thought the returns would be higher than their existing provider. A further fifth (21 per cent) stated they were unsure, indicating they could potentially be convinced.

Check the FCA website and its warning list (https://www.fca.org.uk/scamsmart/warning-list) for cloned companies to make sure you’re dealing with a genuine company. If you have any suspicions, talk to someone you trust and don’t ignore your concerns. It’s important to ask questions and make sure you feel comfortable in the choices you are making and remember, if the returns seem too good to be true, they probably are.

Sian McIntyre, Head of Economic Crime at Barclays UK, says: “Fraudsters really are expert social manipulators and prey on human nature to get their desired outcome. Our research has shown almost three-quarters of Brits have seen an increase in suspicious activity in the last three months and of those who were scammed nearly 4 in 10 (39 per cent) didn’t report it.

“We know that would-be investors are vulnerable to manipulation from scammers when put under time pressure, promised greater returns on investments, or contacted by what they think is an authority figure. That’s why we want to remind the public to never ignore their concerns. If you are ever unsure, take the time you need to respond in the right way. The more we talk about scams, the better equipped we are to stop them”

For more information, please visit: www.barclays.co.uk/scams/


1Barclays data on reported scams from October 2021 – December 2021

2Mortar Research study of 2,002 participants, January 2022

3Full list of questions Barclays will never ask its customers: Barclays will never:

  1. Ask for your PIN
  2. Ask you to divulge any mobile banking activation codes or PINSentry codes
  3. Ask you to transfer money to a safe account
  4. Ask you to assist in an internal bank investigation
  5. Ask a courier to visit your home and pick up cash, items or payment cards
  6. Ask for remote access to your computer or phone
  7. Ask you to pay for anything via a link in a text