What is an impersonation or bank transfer scam?

Have you ever received unsolicited correspondence regarding a payment that you need to make? Perhaps you’ve been told you have an unpaid tax bill? Maybe you’ve been warned your bank account has been compromised and you need to move your money immediately? If you’ve received unusual contact requesting you to make an urgent bank transfer, then you might have been targeted by an impersonation scammer.

So, what is an impersonation scam? Impersonation scams are often referred to as authorised push payment (APP) or bank transfer scams. This is because the victim knowingly transfers, and therefore authorises, a transaction because they believe they are making a legitimate payment to, or on the instruction of, a genuine and well-known organisation. Unfortunately for many, this is not the case and a lot of people find themselves out of pocket as a result of impersonation scammers.

What are the most common types of impersonation / bank transfer scams?

Cybercriminals typically impersonate well-known organisations that you are likely to trust. These types of fraudsters operate sophisticated scams to convince you they are genuine and often pose as representatives from organisations that you might feel comfortable sharing your personal and financial details with. This could include, but is not limited to, the following types of scams:

HMRC Scams

HMRC scams represent the highest volume of impersonation scams we see. Unfortunately, lots of our clients have been targeted by scammers posing as HMRC. They’re targeted in a variety of ways including by text, email or phone call. When the scammers make contact, they notify the victim they have an outstanding tax bill that they must pay immediately. Our clients often report feeling under duress as they’re told failure to make the payment / bank transfer will result in legal consequences including an arrest warrant being issued and a permanent criminal record if they don’t pay. Sadly, often in a state of panic, victims make the payment, only questioning the nature of the request afterwards.

Police Scams

Police scams, whereby a scammer poses as a police officer, are very common. These are typically phone calls that will catch victims, who are unaccustomed to being contacted by the police, off guard. The police scammers will often suggest the local branch of their bank has been compromised e.g. claiming that staff have been stealing money or issuing counterfeit notes etc. They will then instruct the victim move their money into another account for ‘safekeeping’ or make a large withdrawal so that the bank notes can be analysed (before the money is supposedly returned to them). In both cases the victims often transfer or withdraw their money and hand it over to the scammer. It’s only when they lose contact with the ‘police officer’ that they then realise they’ve been duped.

Bank Scams

Banks scams, whereby scammers pose as bank personnel, are also very common. Victims often receive a telephone call from someone claiming to be from the fraud team at their bank. They’ll often suggest there has been suspicious activity on their account and advise moving any funds into a ‘safe’ account in order to protect it. In these cases, clients have been known to transfer their entire life savings to a scammer. It’s only when they cannot access their money and contact their bank to discuss this, they realise they’ve been scammed.

Service Provider Scams e.g. BT Scams, Sky Scams, Virgin Media Scams etc.

Service provider scams involve the impersonation of organisations used by the victim. A common one we see is the impersonation of broadband providers. In these cases, the scammer will pose as an employee who will suggest the victims’ internet router has been ‘hacked’. The scammer will then ask for remote access to the victim’s computer to rectify the issue and offer compensation for the inconvenience. The victim will provide their bank details for the compensation payment at which point the scammer will ask them to check if it has been received. The scammer now has control of the victim’s bank account and will typically make an over payment (often from one of the victims’ own accounts) and then ask the victim to refund the difference (to their account). As the criminal has control of their internet banking, they can then go on to empty the account.

How do impersonation scammers typically target their victims?

Data Breach

It’s not uncommon for cybercriminals to target their victims having first breached their data. By hacking or stealing data fraudsters can set up highly targeted and very realistic impersonation scams. That’s why it’s so important that organisations, which hold your data, protect it. An example of data breaches, that we’ve seen, which have enabled fraudsters to scam large amounts of money from victims involve the hacking of conveyancing solicitors. When purchasing a new home people transfer house deposits and fees to their solicitor. Unfortunately, we’ve handled cases where the solicitor handling the sale has been subject to a data breach and the hackers have used the information to contact their clients, with new payment instructions, subsequently stealing their money.


As previously mentioned, if a cybercriminal has accessed your data, then it’s very easy for them to replicate correspondence from an organisation you use and subsequently trick you into setting up new payment details. However, phishing emails are also incredibly common. In these cases, fraudsters work on the premise that if they send enough emails out, then one of the unsuspecting recipients will likely use the bank or service provider, they’re impersonating, and will therefore be susceptible to being tricked.

Text Message or Telephone Call

Again, if fraudsters have hacked your data or that of an organisation you use then they can be really targeted in their messages or phone calls to you. However, like with email, scammers also send phishing text messages or make speculative phone calls hoping to catch someone out. They’re very convincing and often use a tactic called ‘spoofing’ to make their text message or telephone call seem genuine by cloning or closely replicating the number or call ID that the organisation uses.

Social Media

Social media may seem like a less obvious method of contact, but all organisations increasingly use it and therefore scammers are quick to impersonate genuine accounts to target its users. It’s also very common for cybercriminals to hack personal accounts and then make requests of users’ friends, playing on their personal relationship and making up a story around some sort of financial hardship, in order to ask them to bank transfer money (in this case, direct to the hackers bank account).

What can I do to protect myself from impersonation scammers?

CEL Solicitors’ Top Tips to avoid impersonation scams are:

  • Be wary of unexpected calls, texts, emails or social media messages that contain an urgent request for payment or request your personal or financial information.
  • Always look up the sender’s email address or telephone number to check if it is different to that of the genuine sender.
  • Don’t panic if asked to act immediately, even if it’s suggested ‘your money is at risk’ or ‘your account will be blocked’, as it’s unlikely a genuine organisation would apply this pressure.
  • Always question a caller asking you to transfer money to an account for ‘safe-keeping’. Ask for a reference and tell them you will call them back to discuss the matter further.

Can I get my money back from an impersonation scam?

If you’re among those people who have been tricked by an impersonation scammer then you are not alone. Impersonation scams are among the most common type of scams we deal with so if you have been conned by a fraudster impersonating someone else, then we can help you.

Many people feel embarrassed when they realise they have been duped by someone impersonating someone else, but you should never hesitate to get in touch. We are experts in fraud recovery and can help you get your money back, so you have nothing to lose by making an enquiry.

What will it cost me to make an impersonation scam claim?

The first thing to be aware of is that we will never ask for money upfront. We work on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis so if unsuccessful you won’t pay a penny. If we are successful in getting your money back, we deduct a success fee, capped at 25% plus VAT of anything we recover on your behalf. However, we also claim damages for stress, inconvenience and interest at 8% from the date you lost your money. Therefore, if we’re able to secure compensation in addition to your money back you can often get close to 100% of the money that you lost back.

How do I know you are genuine?

To put you at ease, CEL Solicitors is a trading name of Cheshire Estates and Legal Limited (company number: 10370954). We are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA number: 633955). To check us out, you can visit the Law Society’s website and look us up using their ‘Find a Solicitor’ tool, which is a free service for anyone looking for information about organisations or people providing legal services in England and Wales that are regulated by the SRA. We would encourage you to investigate anyone who offers to help you get you money back from a scam. Unfortunately, fraudsters often return to their victims with offers to help recover their money so it’s not unusual for scam victims to be targeted multiple times.

What else can I do to protect myself and others from scammers?

First and foremost, if you ever feel threatened by a someone making a request for money then call the police immediately by dialling 999. If you don’t believe you’re in danger, but you’re worried you are being or have recently been scammed, then contact the police by dialling 101. This includes if you think you’re already speaking / have spoken to the police. Stop to ask them for a crime reference number and then offer to call them back to verify they are who they say they are.

The same goes for other organisations be it HMRC, the bank or other service providers. Reputable organisations should never put undue pressure on you to make a transaction there and then so if you’re concerned something is wrong then take down the details and then tell them you will call them back immediately. However, don’t use a method of contact they have provided. Type the organisation into your search browser and use the number provided on their official website.

If you’ve already made a bank transfer and are subsequently worried you’ve fallen victim to an impersonation scam you should report it. In order to report it, write down exactly what’s happened including: how you were targeted (e.g. email, text message, phone call etc.); who you thought you were in contact with (e.g. the police, HMRC, the bank, a service provider etc.); their contact details / how you’ve been corresponding with them (e.g. their email address, phone number or social media account); what made you think it was legitimate (e.g. a realistic looking email / phone number) and what has made you suspicious (e.g. you lost contact with them after making the payment); what information you've shared with them (e.g. your address or bank account details) and how you paid them (the bank you transferred the money to).

Once you’ve gathered the relevant information you should notify your bank as soon as possible. Hopefully they can stop the payment or recover the funds but it’s imperative that you tell them as soon as possible to have the best chance of recovering your money yourself. Also, let Action Fraud know (the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime). Action Fraud works alongside the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which is responsible for investigating fraud and can look into the matter for you.

Finally, if you’re unsuccessful in recovering your money, then get in touch with us. CEL Solicitors specialise in recovering money lost to scammers. We offer a complete fraud and scam recovery service, which you can read more about here. If you’re among those people who’ve suffered as a result of a fraud or scam, then there are steps we can take to recover your money so get in touch today.

How can I get in touch to start my impersonation / bank transfer scam claim?

You can call us on 0808 273 0900 or start your claim online. Alternatively, you can fill out our contact form and a member of our scam recovery team will be in touch. We offer free initial, no obligation advice so you have nothing to lose by getting in touch and having a chat with one of our specially trained advisors.

Why choose CEL Solicitors?

Our solicitors understand that our clients need practical solutions. Our commercially minded team have worked for some of the biggest names in financial services. We offer a range of specialist services tailored to support both consumers and businesses with fraud or scams in relation to banking and finance transactions.

Our experienced team is routinely involved in fraud and scam detection, prevention as well as recovery and finance litigation. We are experts in fraud and scams, including cross-border finance transactions, supporting our UK clients with domestic and international funds recovery.

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