Understanding Push Payment Scams and How to Avoid Them

Discovering your bank account’s been hit by a push payment scam can feel like a sucker punch to your finances. You’re not alone; these scams are on the rise, tricking even the savviest customers into authorising payments to fraudsters. Understanding the mechanics of push payment scams is your first line of defence. You’ll learn how scammers exploit trust and technology to bypass traditional security measures, and why it’s often hard to get your money back. Stay ahead of the game by diving into the intricacies of these scams, ensuring you’re equipped to spot and stop them before they drain your account.

What are push payment scams?

Push payment scams, also known as authorized push payment (APP) frauds, are when you’re duped into willingly transferring money from your bank account to a scammer. Unlike other scams that hack into banking systems, push payment scams rely on tricking you into authorizing payments to an account that you believe is legitimate.

With these scams, the fraudsters often pose as representatives of an organization you trust—like a bank, a solicitor, or a government entity. They may use various forms of communication, including phone calls, text messages, or emails, to create a sense of urgency or legitimacy that prompts you to act quickly without verifying their claims.

In a typical scenario, you might receive a call from someone claiming to be from your bank, alerting you of a ‘fraudulent’ transaction. They’ll advise you to transfer your funds to a ‘safe’ account, which is actually controlled by the scammer. Here’s where the exploitation of trust is critical, as you believe you’re taking a step to protect your assets.

Bear in mind the sophistication of these scams:

  • Scammers might have personal information about you, making their claims seem more credible.
  • Phone numbers and email addresses can be spoofed to appear as if they are coming from a legitimate source.

To illustrate the significance of push payment scams, consider the case study of the Cambridge Building Society hoax. Customers received convincing calls from individuals posing as society representatives. They were informed of a security breach and persuaded to move funds into alternate accounts for ‘protection’. By the time the fraud was recognized, substantial amounts had been siphoned off.

The numbers speak for themselves; according to UK Finance, in the first half of 2021 alone, £355 million was lost due to APP fraud.

Year APP Fraud Losses (in million £)
H1 2020 207
H1 2021 355

Remember, once the money leaves your account, recovering it can be a significant challenge. The premise behind push payment scams is simple yet effective: create a believable story, back it with urgency, and watch as unsuspecting victims hand over their hard-earned money. To avoid falling prey, always verify any such urgent financial instructions directly with the entity involved using their official contact details.

How do scammers exploit trust?

Scammers are adept at masquerading as credible entities to exploit your trust. They often conduct thorough research to create a convincing facade. By posing as financial advisors, bank officials, or even government representatives, they can gain your confidence.

One tactic involves impersonating employees from well-known banks or building societies. Scammers might contact you, claiming there’s an issue with your account that requires immediate attention. By instilling a sense of urgency, they push you to act swiftly, sidestepping your usual caution.

Consider the phony Brighton & Hove Building Society incident, where victims received calls from scammers who knew detailed information about their accounts. Trust was quickly built on the back of this knowledge, leading to significant losses for the victims.

Another methodology is email spoofing. Scammers send emails that appear to be from a legitimate source. These emails are often indistinguishable from those you’d typically receive from your bank or service provider. They may include logos, branding, and language that feel familiar. You’re prompted to click on a link, which then leads to a fraudulent website designed to harvest your sensitive information.

  • Phishing Attacks are a prime example.
  • You receive a seemingly genuine email.
  • You’re directed to a fake website mirroring your bank’s.
  • You unwittingly enter your login details.
  • Scammers gain access to your accounts.

Social engineering is a cornerstone of these scams. By crafting scenarios that resonate with your experiences, scammers exploit the trust you place in the systems and services you use daily. A prevalent case was the falsified government grant scheme, where individuals, keen to take advantage of financial support during the economic downturn, transferred funds to secure non-existent grants.

The key to their success lies in the psychological manipulation of familiar cues paired with the urgency that suppresses your instinct to verify their claims. Stay vigilant and always double-check through official channels before responding to any unexpected financial requests.

How do scammers exploit technology?

In the realm of push payment scams, the sophisticated use of technology is a tool that fraudsters leverage to breach your trust and security. Cybersecurity loopholes and digital tools are exploited to conduct these deceptive operations seamlessly.

Firstly, understand that scammers frequently use spoofing software to mimic telephone numbers from legitimate institutions. You receive a call that appears genuine because it displays a recognized number. In reality, a scammer is on the other line, armed with enough information to convince you they’re calling from your bank.

Scammers also deploy SMS phishing, where text messages including malicious links claim to be from your financial service provider. These messages often convey urgency, prompting you to act swiftly, bypassing rational thought.

Moreover, they harness social media platforms and search engine ads to present themselves as credible financial advisors. Unsuspecting victims click on these seemingly legit ads, only to be led to well-crafted websites designed to pilfer sensitive information.

In one case, a known bank’s customers received emails to update their security details. The email looked authentic, with the bank’s logo and formatting. However, it directed users to a fraudulent website where their personal information was harvested.

Furthermore, malware such as keyloggers can be surreptitiously installed on your devices. These programs record every keystroke, capturing passwords and account numbers which scammers then use for unauthorized transactions.

Even social engineering tactics have a digital twist. Detailed data collected from various online sources can be pieced together to form a profile of potential targets, facilitating the crafting of personalized and convincing scam scenarios.

Exploitation Method Tool Used Purpose
Phone Spoofing Spoofing Software Mimic legitimate numbers
SMS Phishing Malicious Links Prompt for urgent false actions
Digital Ads Social Media & Search Direct to phishing websites
Malicious Emails Spoofed Emails Harvest personal & financial information
Malware Installation Keyloggers Record keystrokes for sensitive data acquisition

Why are push payment scams on the rise?

Push payment scams exploit the speed at which money transfers between bank accounts. In the UK, the advent of Faster Payments means money can move almost instantly. This immediacy is a double-edged sword: it allows you to make quick transactions but also means that once a scammer has your money, it’s almost impossible to retrieve. Moreover, the rise in online banking activities lends scammers a larger pool of potential victims.

As you’re aware, the sophistication of technology is a boon for productivity but also for criminal activities. Scammers now have access to high-level tools that enable them to execute push payment scams with chilling efficiency. Social engineering tactics have evolved; they’re no longer reliant on blunt force attacks but are tailor-made to target you specifically. Your trusts are won over by what seems like diligent research into your personal and financial life. In reality, it’s data collected from various breaches and social media footprints.

Financial literacy plays a part in the escalating numbers of push payment scams. Many individuals are not well-versed in the complex nature of financial products they’re using, making them easy prey for scammers offering a quick fix or an unbelievable deal. Your decision-making could be clouded by the technical jargon and the fine print, allowing fraudsters to mislead you with ease.

To illustrate, let’s look at the case of pension scams. Scammers might present you with an ‘exceptional’ early pension release opportunity. They tug on the strings of urgency and confidentiality, warning you that the time window is closing or that the deal is exclusive. By the time you realise the funds are gone and the scheme was a façade, the scammers have usually disappeared without a trace.

Year Reported Losses to Push Payment Scams (£)
2018 354 million
2019 456 million
2020 479 million

These numbers from UK Finance show a worrying trend: the losses due to push payment scams are increasing annually. It’s evident that scammers are growing more brazen and techniques are getting more convincing. As you seek help for mis-sold financial products, being conscious of the threats posed by push payment scams is imperative. Being able to spot a scam could save you not just your hard-earned money but also from the emotional turmoil that follows.

How to spot and prevent push payment scams?

Recognising push payment scams is crucial to protect your finances. Scammers use believable stories and appear as legitimate entities, but certain signs can help you spot these deceptions.

Firstly, Unexpected Contact is a common tactic. You may receive a call, email, or text insisting on immediate action regarding your bank account or a financial transaction. Genuine organisations won’t pressure you to act hastily.

Another red flag is Request for Information. Scammers often ask for personal or financial details. Remember, banks will never ask for your PIN or full password.

Changing Payment Details can be alarming. If a company you’re dealing with sends altered bank details, verify this through established contact methods.

Speaking of being vigilant, it’s vital to Verify Requests Independently. Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails or texts. Instead, use official websites or phone numbers to check the legitimacy of the request.

There’s also the tactic of Creating a Sense of Urgency. They may claim your account is at risk or an offer is time-sensitive. Always take a moment to think before acting.

Prevention is about staying informed and proactive:

  • Educate Yourself on the latest scams. Stay ahead of fraudsters by understanding their methods.
  • Use Secure Payment Methods that offer protection, like credit cards for large purchases.
  • Double-Check before transferring money. Confirm the recipient’s details independently, especially for significant transactions.

One recent case involved pensioners targeted by a scam offering early access to pension funds. Victims were persuaded to transfer their pensions into fraudulent schemes. If you’re approached with such offers, verify their authenticity with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Staying alert to these tactics will help safeguard your finances against push payment scams. Remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Protect yourself by always exercising due diligence before making any financial decisions.


Arm yourself with vigilance and the right knowledge to combat push payment scams. Remember to question unexpected requests and verify information through independent channels. Trust your instincts—if something feels off it probably is. Always take a moment to pause and think before you act especially when it involves your hard-earned money. By staying informed and cautious you’ll be better equipped to safeguard your finances against these ever-evolving threats. Stay alert and always double-check—it’s your best defence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are push payment scams?

Push payment scams involve tricking someone into sending money to a fraudster by posing as a legitimate entity. These scams often occur via unexpected contact and requests for immediate payments.

How can I recognize a push payment scam?

Be wary of unexpected requests for personal or financial information, last-minute changes in payment details, or any communication that urges immediate action. Scammers often create a false sense of urgency to pressure you into making a quick decision.

What should I do if I receive a suspicious payment request?

If you receive a questionable payment request, do not act on it immediately. Independently verify the request by contacting the supposed requestor through a trusted and official channel.

How can I prevent becoming a victim of a push payment scam?

Educate yourself on common scams, use secure and traceable payment methods, and always double-check the authenticity of payment requests before transferring any money.

What action should I take if offered early access to pension funds?

If you’re offered early access to pension funds, it’s important to verify the authenticity of the offer. Contact the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) directly to ensure the offer is legitimate and not part of a scam.

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