Fraudulese: online shoppers encouraged to learn about the language of fraud, as average UK consumer targeted twice a week

  • Younger people are more trusting of unsolicited messages, with Visa’s study finding one in four (25%) 18- to 34-year-olds would unknowingly trust a fraudulent message
  • Visa launches ‘Fraudulese’, to help consumers learn about the language of fraudsters and understand how to protect themselves from payment fraud online

Visa is empowering shoppers to learn about the language of fraud, helping them spot the communicative strategies commonly used by fraudsters and feel confident when shopping online.

Research by Visa shows that four in five (80%) UK consumers now make purchases online at least once a month[1]. However, with the majority (55%) of those who have received fraudulent messages seeing an increase in the last year, and the average UK consumer targeted twice a week, it’s more important than ever that shoppers are aware of the potential signs. Persuasive language and unusual spelling and grammar are widely recognised as common signs of fraud, but new analysis by researchers from the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics (AIFL), commissioned by Visa, has for the first time identified the communicative strategies used by fraudsters in short, one-off messages.

Amongst the examples of fraud analysed, which included text messages, emails and social media messages, it was discovered that inviting the recipient to click a link was the most common technique (87%). This was followed by asking the reader to resolve a ‘problem’ (72%), such as rearranging package delivery times or paying a late fee and highlighting unique offers (32%). Supporting these findings, the researchers found ‘click here’, ‘account information’ and ‘gift card’ to be the most commonly used phrases in fraudulent communications.

Dr Marton Petyko, Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics, commented: “Our analysis is the first study of its kind that provides insight into how language is used by fraudsters in short, one-off messages, and is an important contribution to better understanding the things people should look out for when receiving unsolicited messages. By highlighting the communicative strategies, words and phrases used by fraudsters, we hope people can more easily spot the language of fraud as it stands today, which ultimately helps to protect them.”


Fraud has become increasingly sophisticated, with senders able to imitate everything from the language commonly used by businesses or organisations to logos and names. Visa’s study also found that younger generations are particularly trusting of communications relating to products or services online:

  • Almost a quarter (23%) of respondents aged 18 to 34 say they’re unlikely to check messages about a service or product for spelling and grammar mistakes, while nearly three in ten (29%) are unlikely to consider how persuasive the language is.
  • When shown a fraudulent message, one in four (25%) of those surveyed aged between 18 and 34 said they would trust the message as legitimate, more than double the proportion of those aged 55 and over (11%).
  • Common reasons for trusting a fraudulent message were familiar wording (39%) such as the use of the reader’s name, and references to established companies. This was followed by respondents feeling the action required, such as clicking through to a webpage, was clear (36%) or that they recognised the brand name or product mentioned (34%).


With fraudsters using various techniques to make themselves appear credible, Visa is encouraging consumers to learn about ‘Fraudulese’, to help them feel confident online.

 Mandy Lamb, Managing Director, UK & Ireland at Visa comments: “As we’re all spending more time online, it’s good to be aware of what we can do to keep ourselves safe. Our new study demonstrates how it can be hard to spot the signs of fraud in emails, texts and messages. That’s why we’re raising awareness of ‘Fraudulese’ and sharing our top tips for spotting the signs, so everyone has the tools to avoid falling victim. When it comes to paying with Visa, you can feel confident you are paying safely and securely, as Visa’s Zero Liability Policy* means you won’t be held responsible for unauthorised or fraudulent charges made with your account. “

 Visa’s 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 and spelling, 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 – 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, so you can shop confidently in the knowledge that Visa helps protect you from payment fraud online.

If you are targeted by a fraudster, to help others avoid falling victim you can report it to Action Fraud or the National Cyber Security Centre. And if you think you have been defrauded, call your bank and explain the situation – they can often help you claim your money back.

To find out more about the protections you have when paying with Visa, click here.

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

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