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TSB research finds almost three quarters of people struggle to identify common scams, with young people most at risk

4th July 2020


Millions of people could be vulnerable to a fraud attack by failing to recognise common warning signs in third party communications, according to new research¹ from TSB.

TSB showed 2,000 UK adults a series of 20 emails and texts from third parties, such as banks, and mobile phone providers; 10 of which were genuine communications and a further 10 of which were fraudulent.

Just 18 percent of respondents were able to correctly identify all 10 fraudulent messages, while only a quarter (25%) of respondents could identify all fraudulent messages imitating banks. Just over a third (36%) correctly identified the scams pretending to be from other common providers, such as mobile phone companies or retailers.

Worryingly, over a third (37%) of Brits indicated that they would respond to at least one fraudulent message claiming to be from their bank, which shows the great lengths fraudsters go to in making these targeted scams look convincing.

During the pandemic TSB has seen a significant spike in smishing attacks, although TSB found that losses and cases did not rise at an equivalent rate. Throughout this period, TSB has provided news on emerging scams to help people across the UK fend off this wave of attacks.

Additionally, TSB’s unique Fraud Refund Guarantee means that every single TSB customer who innocently fell victim has had their money returned to them – a reimbursement rate of 99 percent which compares with a rate of just 41 percent across the industry.

Young people at risk

The research also found that those aged between 18-24 were most at risk of falling victim to fraud as they identified considerably fewer fraudulent messages than older generations, with just nine percent achieving a full score. Two fifths (41%) also stated that they would respond to at least one fraudulent message claiming to be from their bank, while a third (35%) would respond to a message imitating a provider – the highest of all age groups.

TSB previously found that almost one in three under 25s (29%)3 say protection against fraud is a key factor when choosing their bank.

Table 1: Young people most likely to fall victim to fraud

Age group Number who were able to correctly identify all fraudulent messages (%) Number who would respond to at least one message pretending to be from their bank (%) Number who would respond to at least one message pretending to be from a provider (%)
18-34 9% 41% 35%
35-54 17% 39% 25%
55+ 26% 32% 25%

Source: TSB

Fresh concern as fraud rises amid the pandemic

TSB found that concerns over fraud remain high – with a fifth (19%) saying they are concerned that a family member could be defrauded during the coronavirus pandemic. And this figure rises to 43 percent² with concerns over an elderly friend or relative.

TSB is calling on people across the UK to remain vigilant during this heightened period of fraudulent activity and never to rush in following contact from a third party. The Bank is also encouraging people to report scams, by forwarding text messages for free to 7726, and e-mails to

TSB continues to expand its network of partnerships with police forces to provide specialist equipment and training into financial systems to help bring fraud down. The Bank also works closely with telecoms companies to target fake third-party communications.

Ashley Hart, Head of Fraud at TSB, said: “Unfortunately, fraudsters are becoming increasingly clever in using technology such as text messages to impersonate banks and other companies, all to trick people out of their hard-earned money.

“Our findings show how convincing these messages can appear, and highlight a worrying proportion of people who could be caught out. The emotional and financial impact of fraud can be devastating – which is why we reimburse all our customers should they ever fall victim and invest in partnerships with police forces to hunt down the criminals behind these attacks.”


Media Contacts


Matthew Hepburn, Media Relations Manager | 07483 431 309 |


Notes to editors


Smishing case studies who received full reimbursement

TSB reimbursed over £21,000 to a female customer in her mid-60s from East Scotland who was tricked into sending money to a ‘safe account’, after receiving a convincing fake TSB text as part of a complex co-ordinated scam. Had TSB not provided reimbursement the victim would have lost her entire life savings simply because she thought she was speaking to her bank.

Losses aren’t always big, but can still be damaging to the victims involved. TSB reimbursed £10 to a male customer in his late 30s from the East Midlands who fell victim to a fake government text claiming to offer a tax refund due to Covid-19 – a highly common approach during the pandemic. Although only £10, TSB returned the victim’s money and used its platform to advise how to beat such attacks.

1Research of 2,000 nationally representative UK adults conducted by Opinium, June 2020. Respondents were shown a series of 20 images of third-party external communications sourced from web sources and personal experience, and asked to identify whether each was a genuine example, or part of fraudulent activity.

2Research of 2,000 nationally representative UK adults conducted by Opinium, April 2020.

3Research of 1,500 respondents conducted by One Pulse, April 2019.

TSB’s Fraud Refund Guarantee

Since the introduction of TSB’s Fraud Refund Guarantee in April 2019, TSB has reimbursed 100% of all innocent victims. Overall, 99% of fraud cases were reimbursed, which is double the industry average of 41% under the Contingent Reimbursement Model.

TSB’s expert tips to help beat Covid-19 scams

Smishing: Fraudsters can ‘spoof’ text messages to look like they’ve originated from an organisation. For instance, Covid-19 scams see fraudsters impersonating the government, World Health Organisation and the NHS – as they mimic official communication. Don’t click on any links provided in text messages, and make sure you verify any telephone numbers given before calling.

Phishing: Covid-19 tax refund, refunds from your travel bookings, safety advice via email and donation requests are all ways in which fraudsters could try and make you click on dodgy links, or make you part with sensitive personal and financial information. Always stop and think about what you are being asked to do, and if you have any doubts, talk to family or friends. And don’t open attachments.

Vishing: Always be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls. Fraudsters often claim to be your broadband provider, your bank, a charity or any organisation that could lead them to your personal information - and your cash. Don’t be afraid to put the phone down if you can’t verify the caller and guard your details. Appearances can be deceptive, so if you have concerns, call the organisation directly from the number listed on their website, or if it’s your bank, use the number on the back of your card.