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Starling’s financial crime specialist Sarah Lenette takes a look at how you can help to protect yourself from impersonation scams.


Most of us will have seen films where the villain disguises themselves in order to carry out their evil plan (think the Joker in The Dark Knight). Well, it would appear that these films may have inspired fraudsters to come up with increasingly sophisticated ways to scam people out of their money.

Impersonation scams are when a fraudster poses as an individual or business in order to make people believe they are speaking to the genuine entity. They can come in many different forms. Here at Starling, we want to ensure that we provide you with enough guidance regarding these scams so that you know what to look out for.

Safe Account Scams

One of the most common ways in which a fraudster will get someone to part with their money is to make you believe that your bank account has been compromised and the only way to secure your funds is to move them to a new or ’safe’ bank account.

This may come in the form of a phone call out of the blue from someone supposedly from your bank, law enforcement or even an internet provider advising that your internet connection isn’t secure. The phone number they call from may even look genuine, when you look it up online, or check the back of your bank card. This is because criminals can spoof phone numbers.

Some scammers may even go as far as getting you to download a screen sharing app (such as Teamviewer) on to your computer. Once this has been done, they will be able to see everything that you see, and so can view any password or personal information. They may be able to show you pages with false information, in an attempt to make you believe your account is being hacked.

Your bank will NEVER ask you to move your funds to a new account if your existing account has been compromised. If you receive a phone call like this, hang up and call back on a phone number found on the back of your bank card or call via your bank’s app. Alternatively, you can find your bank’s contact number via their website. The web address should begin with ’https’ and the security status should show a padlock icon on the left hand side of the website’s URL.

HMRC Scams

Other organisations that fraudsters frequently impersonate are HMRC or law enforcement representatives linked to collecting fines (like high court officials). Often they will call out of the blue and advise that there is an outstanding payment or fine that needs to be settled. The scammers will sometimes threaten to send police to your address to make an arrest, or bailiffs to recover goods to satisfy the bill/fine in an attempt to intimidate.

Similar to the Safe Account scam above, the best way to verify that you are communicating with whom you think you are, is to call back on the number found on HMRC’s website.

Invoice Redirection Scams

An invoice redirection scam is where an individual receives contact (normally an email), from someone they were expecting to make a payment to, but the payment request actually comes from a third party. This can happen when a fraudster hacks into an email account, or creates a new email address that looks very similar to the genuine one (for example switching ’o’ with ’0’ or adding in an extra full stop), and sends an invoice with their own bank details on. This can also, on occasion, occur by phone.

Always be cautious of requests for funds to be transferred into accounts that you have not paid before. Verify the legitimacy of the request via known and trusted means such as an existing phone number or, in person.

Social Media Impersonation Scams

Not only can fraudsters hack into email accounts, they can also hack into various forms of social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. They can then send out messages posing as a family member or friend in financial difficulty. As mentioned in our blog on social media scams, the scammers will even read through your previous conversations to make sure that they sound convincing when writing their messages.

If you weren’t expecting to make a payment, try phoning the family member or friend that has requested the money, to double check it really was them - it gives you a good excuse to have a catch up too!

Our (not so) secret weapon against impersonation scams? Confirmation of Payee.

Confirmation of Payee is a measure designed to help you determine if the name on the account you’re sending funds to matches the details the bank holds for that account. We would recommend that you always try and proceed with a full match to ensure that your payment does not go to a fraudsters account.

If someone is pressuring you to transfer funds to an account where there is a Confirmation of Payee mismatch, this should immediately raise red flags. Do not proceed without contacting the intended beneficiary on a trusted contact number to be certain the payment is not part of a scam.

Top Tips

  • If you are being called on a landline, after hanging up, call back from a mobile phone where possible - fraudsters have been known to keep the landline open so that when you call back, you get straight back through to them.
  • A legitimate company/individual would not pressure you into making a payment immediately and would allow you time to verify who they were.
  • Social media and email accounts are easily hacked. Approach any requests for money cautiously. Always contact the person requesting the money via a different channel (preferably a phone call to a trusted number) if they are asking you to pay a new account.
  • Look out for any spelling or formatting discrepancies on any emails, invoices or links to any websites you receive from what you believe to be genuine business. Sometimes the scammers aren’t as clever as they like to think they are!
  • Never allow a third party that has called you out of the blue to gain access to your computer/phone using a screen sharing application (such as Teamviewer).

Remember: Anyone can become a victim of an impersonation scam, so always be vigilant and remember that it’s ok to question who you are speaking with.

A genuine individual or business will have no problem with you ending an unsolicited phone call and calling back on a trusted phone number. For more information on scams and how to further protect yourself, visit our friends at Take Five.

Tips on how to stay safe from the Take Five campaign
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