How learning about the language of fraud can keep you safe online

visa fraudulese campaign

With so many platforms and online marketplaces to browse and buy from, online shopping puts a world of possibilities at our fingertips. It offers a convenient and accessible way to explore our passions, whether that’s vintage clothes shopping, scouting out concert tickets, or getting the best deal on a day out with the family. However, as we’re all spending more time online, it’s good to be aware of what we can do to keep ourselves safe.

Our research found that more than a third of online shoppers (35%) have been a target of fraud1, with the average UK shopper targeted twice a week.2

At Visa, we’re committed to helping you pay with confidence and protecting you from payment fraud online. We use multiple layers of security to prevent fraud, protect your data, and help you get your money back if someone uses your card without your permission. But there are also things you can do to keep yourself safe online.

That’s why we’ve teamed up with researchers from the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics to launch ‘Fraudulese’ – the language of fraud, to help you spot the tell-tale signs of fraud and shop with confidence.

Here’s our five top tips for spotting the signs of fraud:

  1. Spell-check messages – inconsistencies in the language used in a message, such as errors in grammar, the arrangement of words, or differences between the sender’s name and the URL link provided, could indicate it’s fraud. If you receive a message from a company or individual out of the blue, be vigilant in checking for these errors.
  2. Be cautious of urgent actions language encouraging you to take urgent action is a common tactic used in bogus communications. Look out for phrases like ‘send (…) here’ or ‘click (…) below’, or undated timeframes such as ‘in 48 hours’ or ‘by tomorrow morning’. Always take the time to consider whether the message is genuine. If you think it’s fake, it’s important not to click on any links to avoid compromising your personal information.
  3. Watch out for suspicious asks – fraudsters often entice you by either highlighting a problem (e.g., asking you to rearrange a delivery) or making a tempting offer (e.g., suggesting you have won a prize). Think about your recent dealings with that organisation or individual. If you don’t recognise the problem you’re being asked to resolve or the offer they’re trying to get you to react to, it might be fraud. If you’re unsure, don’t click on any links or contact the sender in any way.
  4. Validate they are who they say they are – fraudsters often work hard to convince you of their credibility, sometimes using words and phrases that you might find in genuine communications. It can be hard to tell the difference, so if you are unsure, you can check by using a different form of communication to the one they have used to reach you. For example, if you get a text asking for bank information, try emailing or web chatting the company directly to check if it’s a true request.
  5. Check the message with someone you trust – real people can be great at understanding language and communication in social contexts. It may sound obvious, but if you’re unsure about the legitimacy of a message, it can help to discuss it with someone you trust. They may have also received a similar message and might be able to help advise on the best course of action to take. Sharing your experience might save someone else from falling victim too.

As a network working to protect payments, Visa is committed to tackling fraud to help everyone pay with confidence. In the unfortunate event that something does go wrong, Visa’s Zero Liability Policy* means you won’t be held responsible for unauthorised or fraudulent charges made with your account. You can shop confidently in the knowledge that Visa helps protect you from payment fraud online.  To find out more about the protections you have when paying with Visa, click here.

About the research

Analysis by researchers from the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics was conducted between 3rd March 2022 and 23 March 2022. The analysis involved quantitative and qualitative analysis of 155 texts (5,891 words) qualifying as fraudulent communications in the form of SMS texts, emails and social media messages. To note, this analysis is based solely on fraudulent communication, without a reference corpus of authentic, legitimate messages from organisations or individuals, so many of the features observed may also appear in genuine communication.

1 Research commissioned by Visa and conducted by Opinium with 2,001 nationally representative UK adults between 1st – 4th February 2022.

2 Research commissioned by Visa and conducted by Opinium with 2,000 nationally representative UK adults between 18 March 2022 and 23 March 2022.

* Visa's Zero Liability policy does not apply to certain commercial card and anonymous prepaid card transactions or transactions not processed by Visa. Cardholders must use care in protecting their card and notify their issuing financial institution immediately of any unauthorized use. Contact your issuer for more detail.

Visa’s recommendations in this document are provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for marketing, legal, regulatory or other advice. Any recommendations should be independently evaluated in light of your specific needs and any applicable laws and regulations. Visa is not responsible for your use of the recommendations, or other information, including errors of any kind, contained in this document.


Tag: Fraud Tag: Payment Security