Investment scams – what they are and how to spot them


Investment scams on the rise

Investment scams aren’t new, but people are being caught out by them more than ever before. Here at PDL, we’ve noticed an increase in clients looking for help from our fraud investigation services, either because they fear they may have fallen victim to a scam or because they suspect an investment they’re being encouraged to make may not be entirely what it seems.

This rise in demand for the services our team of expert financial fraud investigators provide is not entirely unexpected – given the turbulent economic environment of recent years, as well as the ongoing effects of the pandemic.  The clients we see have all been keen to maximise their earnings and, in some cases, have already invested (or lent,) significant sums of money before carrying out any checks on the individuals or company involved.


What is an investment scam?

Financial fraud comes in all shapes and sizes, with phishing and tech support scams at one end of the scale and investment scams, for example pyramid schemes or so-called boiler room scams at the other. 

Although the details may vary, most scams of this kind involve the scammer convincing would-be investors to part with cash for products or schemes that either don’t exist or are essentially worthless.

The criminals carrying out these frauds will usually maintain a sustained campaign of contact with their victims, nurturing the relationship and building trust, before abruptly breaking all contact once a financial transaction has been made.

All of these scams exploit the vulnerabilities that make us human – whether that’s a desire to provide for our families, or simply wanting to ensure a comfortable retirement. 

Official statistics show that in 2021 more than £1.3bn was stolen by fraudsters*. This is a tremendous amount of money, and evidence from financial investigation services points to investment scams as the second most common type of scam, second only to impersonation scams. 

Investment scams

Our financial fraud investigation services

Like other types of criminal behaviour, anyone can find themselves targeted by financial scammers – not just those who might be considered vulnerable or lacking in street smarts. In fact, as these criminals grow in both confidence and sophistication, even people who are experienced investors and aware of the risks are finding themselves getting caught out.  

The majority of our clients come to us because they have a sense that something isn’t quite right: “It seems great, but something feels a little ‘off’” is something we hear often. 

Our clients don’t want to risk missing out on a potentially profitable opportunity, but they also want to be 100% certain of its legitimacy before making a commitment.  We look into the matter for them, identifying any issues or concerns.

If you have any doubts, taking the time to carry out some due diligence before moving forward with a new financial venture is always the best way to avoid falling victim to criminal activity.

If you’re worried you’ve already been the victim of a bogus scheme, a private detective agency such as PDL can look into the details for you.  But a preventative approach – carrying out appropriate due diligence checks before making new investment decisions is always more effective. 

So, the question is, how can you avoid investment fraud?


How to spot investment fraud

  • Question unexpected contact. Financial fraud investigators usually notice a familiar pattern: scammers get in touch with their victims out of the blue, usually with an opportunity they claim to be sharing because “it’s just too good to miss out on”. If you’ve been cold-called or received an unexpected email outlining a fantastic opportunity, always check whether it’s legitimate before handing over any money.
  • Say no to pressure. Another common tactic scammers use is to pile on the pressure. You may be told what they’re offering is time limited or even “one time only”. There may be a very short deadline, or sometimes bonus or discount incentives are offered for getting involved quickly. A legitimate investment opportunity will never be marketed in this way. You should always question any so-called opportunity that makes you feel pressured or uncomfortable.
  • A new best friend. A frequent finding in financial fraud investigations is the lengths criminals will go to to get their victims to commit. Common tactics include prolonged and frequent contact, bombarding the intended ‘investor’ with unsolicited phone calls, email and text follow-ups. In some instances, the relationship may seem more like that of a friend rather than someone trying to make a business deal. This should always be considered a red flag.
  • Confusing terms, jargon, and returns that are too good to be true. All these things should be concerning if you want to invest your money. You should always understand exactly what you’re investing in and using regulated firms or individuals is advisable.

Get in touch if you’re concerned about anything we’ve covered in this article. We’ll provide free, honest, ethical, legally–sound advice with no obligation.



*as reported in the Guardian, 29 June 2022

Is Phone Hacking Legal?

At PDL, potential clients ask us very frequently – probably around twice per day – if we
will ‘hack’ a phone, meaning to illicitly and remotely gain access to a device and its data.
With phone hacking scandals in journalism and government in relatively recent memory,
the concept is certainly within the zeitgeist and public consciousness.
However, many people have questions around the legality of phone hacking: Is it legal?
Is it only illegal under certain circumstances? Are there alternatives?
As such, we wanted to address these questions and more in a clear and simple manner,
via this blog. Please read the below – we hope it’s helpful.
If you have any questions about anything within this article, or relating to our services or
company as a whole, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

is phone hacking legal?

Why Do People Request Phone Hacking?

Ultimately, when an individual or organisation approaches us looking to instruct a private detective, they do do so because they want answers.

With phone hacking requests, corporations do occasionally enquire, but the vast majority of the time it’s an individual wishing to conduct a matrimonial investigation – and feeling the answers they want lie on a phone.

Is Phone Hacking Legal?

No, phone hacking is not legal. It is illegal. A phone is essentially an asset that a person or company has acquired ownership of. If you don’t have access to it, then there lies the simple answer.

The government can’t access your phone, and nor can the police – without sufficient reason and thus the granting of the right to do so.

The phone’s owner has the right to the ownership and privacy of their own device and data. Of course, there’s a big conversation currently going on about the sharing and purchasing of data, and the various tactics companies employ to seek individuals’ agreement to share their data. 

However this is a separate issue that doesn’t change the simple fact that phone hacking is illegal. Even the word ‘hack’ points towards underhand or illicit intentions.

Completing phone forensics of a phone that our client should and does have access to is another matter. However the questions are always: Do you – and should you – have access?

The Ethics of Phone Hacking

At PDL, an exemplary ethical code has always been at the core of our ethos. We’re proud of our high standards and uncompromisingly ethical approach to leading the way in the UK. We often say of phone hacking: Even if we could do it, we wouldn’t. 

Phone Hacking Alternatives

Just because phone hacking is not a route we can or will take, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t available ways to get results. 

We can almost always achieve the answers our clients seek – and via legal, ethically-sound methods, without exception.

We are very happy to discuss alternative approaches with any potential client, any time. 


Our Advice 

To reiterate, we – just one company – receive in the region of 800 phone hacking requests per year, every year. So please don’t be embarrassed about having tried to seek a phone hacking service before knowing it was illegal.

The need for answers can feel overwhelming, and it can be difficult to find clear advice on phone hacking’s legality – one of the reasons for this article.

If you don’t choose to explore alternative methods with us, or another reputable company, then our primary advice is to be careful. 

There are companies purporting to offer phone hacking services. They may be being dishonest about their methods, i.e. Taking payment for one service then doing another.

Alternatively they may take an initial fee to secure your instruction, not actually complete any investigation, then return to you to state the operation was simply unsuccessful – but the payment is still required for their time.

Or they may be actually undertaking illegal hacking practices, which is of course absolutely not something to be involved with.

Steer clear of any detective or company who states that they can and will hack a phone, and allow a trusted, expert detective to advise on methods.

Feel free to contact us via the details below for free, honest, legally-sound, ethical advice – at no obligation.



Our Top 5 Fraud Prevention Tips

Unfortunately, fraud is on the rise in the UK and worldwide. Fraudsters’ natural inclination to prey on our vulnerability has only been heightened by 2020’s unusual times, due to the increasing desperation of the fraudsters themselves.

It’s easy to become isolated, or financially cornered – both things that can cloud our judgement and make us more susceptible to fraud and scams.

As such, it’s vital to retain a healthy amount of suspicion, undertake some due diligence, and ultimately seek some advice, before co-operating with any activities that arouse suspicion.

At PDL, we’ve seen just about every type of fraud case there is, and caught fraudsters enacting every trick in the book. We’re always updating our understanding of scammers’ methods, to ensure we’re best-placed to get to the bottom of all the cases with which our clients entrust us.

To help you become a little more fraud savvy, here are our top 5 fraud prevention tips:


1 – Take Your Time With Cryptocurrency

Since Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies burst into public awareness in recent years, many people have invested money therein, with some success. However, it’s important to remember that these stories are the exceptions and not the rule. Far more prevalent have been the stories of huge losses, scams, frauds, and other presenting problems.

It’s important to remember that ‘Get rich quick’ schemes are nothing new, and that if someone or something is offering unbelievably high yield in a short time, it deserves equally high scrutiny. To use the old adage – if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

So – don’t make instant decisions on cryptocurrency investments. Take 24 hours thinking and cooling-off time, and seek advice from a trusted friend – particularly if they’re financially savvy.

Take your time is one of many wider points to be made here, about finances and financial fraud in general. At PDL we prefer prevention rather than cure, and it’s – naturally – much harder to get your money back after a fraud than it is to stop it going in the first place.

Consider also your payment method for any transaction of which you’re remotely uncertain, remembering that credit card transactions are more protected than debit card transactions or bank transfers, and certainly do not go to meet someone in person with large sums of cash as there’s almost no subsequent recourse in cases of fraud.

2 – Speak To Friends About Online Romances

The primary reason that romantic scams continue to thrive despite being such well-covered ground, is the way in which the associated emotion can cloud the victim’s judgement.

Professional fraudsters are incredibly adept at establishing rapport – that feels entirely genuine – and at manoeuvring themselves into the trust of others.

We’ve had clients worldwide come to PDL having already sent large sums to romantic partners they’ve never met – carried away by the apparent relationship, rapport, and connection.

Of course, they’re simply victims of highly-skilled manipulators with bad intentions, meaning they’re often still partially convinced by the fraudster even while we’re working with them to extract them from the situation and recover their money where possible.

We advise that you always confide in a trusted friend before sending any money to an online romantic partner. Your friend’s emotional detachment from the situation is crucial in differentiating between a genuine romance and a romantic scam. Look out also for any red flags along the way, such as your partner’s unwillingness to have a phone call or video call, their back story not adding up or containing holes, or their reluctance to reveal much about themselves.



3 – Institution Imposter Scams

This is a type of fraud in which an individual or group may contact you, posing as an institution such as HMRC, a bank, or a service provider, seeking your personal details, or money.

While we all like to think we’re wise to such scams, nowadays, there are two reasons that fraud like this continues to work.

Firstly, the increasing sophistication of the fraudsters. Their approach and technology is always ’improving’ meaning their scams can appear very genuine.

And secondly, our natural tendency to defer to authority. Organisations like HMRC, or a bank, are things we usually take quite seriously and attempt to show cooperation to. Fraudsters know this and look to exploit it.

Institutions like these have systems and processes in place by design. It’s extremely unlikely that their means of contact would be a spontaneous, withheld-number phone call to you. If you receive one, inform the caller that you will hang up and call the organisation back – on the number you already have for the organisation, rather than a number the caller gives you.

The genuine organisation’s employees should not take issue with this – it is something they are aware of as good security practice, and are trained to encourage. If the caller shows any anger or irritation relating to this, the evidence would suggest it’s even more likely that this is a fraud at work.

If you receive emails from institutions like this asking you for personal information or money, scrutinise it, and call the institution directly to verify the communication’s accuracy.

In short – protect your bank account as fiercely as you’d protect its contents in cash in your pocket.


4 – Consider Greater Email & Data Security

In January 2020, we wrote a full blog post on data security which is full of useful advice to ensure you’re protected online.

One of the key points with security is to consider greater email encryption, so be sure to research the level of security offered by your current email provider, and how you may be able to increase your level of security, either by upgrading with the provider, or switching to another.

Another thing you can do to protect yourself online, not just regarding email but in general, is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to equip yourself with protection and anonymity online.

If you’d like to discuss the specifics of your situation so we can give more direct and specific advice, don’t hesitate to contact PDL.


5 – Don’t Be Embarrassed!

It’s simultaneously worrying and reassuring to consider that a fraud in some form, on some level, will probably happen to us all on at least one occasion.

One of the primary reasons a fraud is prevented, minimised, or stopped in its tracks, is the victim sharing some details with a trusted friend, colleague, or advisor. Someone with some detachment who is more inclined to spot the red flags and help the victim take the necessary steps.

We have often encountered clients who are at first shy or embarrassed – perhaps blaming themselves – for becoming victims of fraud.

To which we would say, please don’t be embarrassed! Fraudsters’ methods are manipulative and increasingly sophisticated. There is no shame in falling for their advanced and devious methods.

The vital thing, and the final point in this post, is to speak to people. Seek advice, share stories, be healthily suspicious, and take a constantly protective attitude to your data, finance, and personal information.

The Importance of Encryption

At PDL, we spend a huge amount of time carefully considering cyber security and encryption.

Good data encryption is always central to our working processes, and key to the reassurances we can offer our clients – specifically relating to confidentiality, discretion, and data protection.

Find out more below on what encryption is, why it’s important, what we recommend, and how to seek further advice on this subject.

What Is Encryption?

Encryption is the process of encoding information, such that only authorised parties may decipher it. 

Encryption comes in various forms and at various levels of security, meaning it’s really important to understand the options on offer, and choose what best suits you or your organisation.

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a key phrase here. It means only the communicating users can read the messaging content. 

However, it’s important to note that often this phrase is applied to services that arguably should not claim to offer genuine end-to-end encryption, due to some of their data handling processes. For this reason it’s vital to do research to ensure your chosen services offer genuine E2EE.

Why Does Encryption Matter?

The short answer is that it’s an additional layer of defence to your confidential information. 

The specifics may vary here: Individuals and organisations can be subject to cyber attacks and intrusive investigations, people may be targeted for personal reasons, companies can suffer data leaks, or be hacked, and so on. 

If you’re handling sensitive, confidential, or personal information that affects individuals or organisations, encryption is an essential part of your protection against the unauthorised accessing of that information – that is to say, it ending up in the wrong hands.


Importance of encryption

Our Recommendations

At PDL, one of the first things we do with any client who instructs us is to implement our tried and tested processes of encryption. 

We ask clients to join us in using certain softwares, applications and processes – ones we know are the highest level of security available to us. 

As a general recommendation to any individuals or organisations reading, we recommend:

  • Thoroughly researching the encryption and cyber security options available
  • Establishing processes to ensure your cyber security is maintained
  • Seeking advice if needed, to be sure of the changes you implement


We highly recommend the ProtonMail service, which offers genuine end-to-end encryption, and implements various measures to ensure it is (virtually) unhackable, and one of the most secure email providers available. 

ProtonMail states that not even the service itself – never mind hackers – can access or read users’ emails.

At PDL we use ProtonMail, but are not paid affiliates in any form.

Need More Advice On Encryption?

If you want to discuss any aspect of your data encryption and cyber security processes, please contact us for a free initial consultation, during which we can cover information that may be of use to you, and how we can advise you or your organisation on an ongoing basis.

A Private Detective’s Data Security Advice

A very frequent question we receive from our corporate and individual clients who work with sensitive data is how to better protect and secure that data.

This is evidently an issue that has become increasingly relevant in recent years, and looks likely to only continue to do so.

We’re always happy to provide our clients with extensive and comprehensive advice to ensure and improve their data security.

Here is a brief outline of some of the essential points that may be useful to you, whether you work with/around sensitive data, or are protective of your personal information.

Treat Your Devices As Currency 

It’s really important to keep in mind the value of data, in the modern age. This is multiplied tenfold if your work involves handling data, sensitive information, or anything relating to business or security that may be the subject of espionage – which is, we must repeatedly remind our clients, a very real thing.

A perfect example is in a hotel room scenario. Often the first thing we’ll do is put cash, passports, jewellery etc in the hotel room safe. Great – a sensible thing to do.

However this is somewhat undermined when we then leave laptops and tablets out on the side. Often unlocked, easy-to-unlock, or otherwise accessible with sensitive information on display.

In this age of data, our devices are (and contain) a currency, that’s arguably as valuable or more valuable than the actual currency that’s securely stowed in the safe. Put your laptops, tablets and devices in the safe!

A private detective security advice



VPN stands for virtual private network, and it is probably the most straightforward way to ensure a high level of security and encryption.

Using one is about improving your online privacy – even when using public networks – and being able to use the internet with anonymity.

Our general advice is to look at the security and encryption levels across the email servers and messaging apps that you use. Specifically, and bluntly, our advice is to get a VPN.

Our advice on choosing and using a VPN is specific and detailed. Get in touch if you want to discuss this in greater depth.

Question Data Sharing 

This is about your right to ask organisations who request your information why they want it, and who they will share it with. This is something that they are required to tell you.

Often they slip under the radar, or hide their detail behind simplistic fronts, to ensure they get your data, which is then sold on – very quickly.

A prime example is encountered when you connect to the wifi in a cafe. In our rush to get online we usually simply click the tick box to give agreement to the terms and conditions. Usually what we’re consenting to here is for our information to then be sold on.

As such it could also be argued that this wifi isn’t really “Free” but rather that whilst the price isn’t strictly monetary, we as the users, and our data, are the product and financial incentive in the deal.

Remember It’s Not All Digital!

Data security is largely about bringing cyber security to the front of our minds, to catch up with the rapidly escalating digital age. A prime example of this is – as asserted above – the need to cultivate habits like putting our laptops in hotel room safes.

However, in this process we mustn’t lose our awareness that not all data is digital. Our laptops in the hotel safe is entirely undermined if we then leave a physical piece of paper with sensitive information on it by the bedside, or our credit card sitting on the hotel room desk.

Protecting ourselves in an all-encompassing, multi-discipline endeavour nowadays, and we must be on the ball.

What Questions Should I Ask A Private Detective?

Hiring a private detective is an important decision for all clients, whether corporate clients or private individuals.

Getting it right is key to efficiency, trust, cost, and ultimately a successful outcome.

It’s important to ask a private detective any questions you may have, to better understand their credentials and how they work, so that you have essential trust in them when working together.

If you’re contacting a private detective it’s most likely because you’ve been in some way wronged or find yourself in a situation where you need help in some form.

So make sure the person you’re instructing to help is in fact going to help and not hinder.

Here’s our suggestion on what questions to ask a private detective:

What Is Your Background And Experience?

An important first question, because background and experience is key. A private detective learns his/her trade and gains their skill from years of experience.

An experienced detective with a background in key areas such as police, government etc is more likely to have what’s necessary to get the job done well and thoroughly for you.

Make sure you ask about their background and experience and that you like what you hear.

Are You Willing To Meet Me In Person?

Of course, if the detective is in London and you’re in Melbourne, doing so would be difficult and perhaps unrealistic in terms of time, logistics and costs.

However, if it’s reasonable to meet then an unwillingness to meet is a red flag. A client should feel they understand and trust the detective they are instructing.

At PDL – as long as we feel safe to do so – we will always meet with any client or prospective client.

Do You Have A Contract Or Agreement Form?

Any formal, professional service should have some form of contract or agreement to set out the terms of the service and working relationship.

It is equally important for both detective and client, ensures details are clear and specific, and both parties know where they stand throughout.

Are You Insured?

Essential in a client’s due diligence is ensuring a private detective they’re working with for the first time is professional enough to have done their own.

Do a quick risk assessment. If something was to go wrong what is the risk/loss to you?

Do You Have A Limited Company? What Entity Am I dealing with?

An error we see in many situations we’re investigating after the event is that people have been stung when not knowing who/what entity they were dealing with.

Little things help clients here, such as asking for a formal estimate on headed paper, checking the name on the bank account you’re sending payment to, checking if the company is a sole trader or a limited company.

What’s Your ICO Number?

Every UK company should have an ICO number. The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) is in charge of UK Data Protection.

The Data Protection (Charges and Information) Regulations 2018 require every organisation or sole trader who processes personal information to pay a data protection fee to the ICO, unless they are exempt.

There are checks that you can do to make sure the detective or investigation company you’re dealing with is on the register i.e. Searching the register.

Who Will Handle/Work On My Case?

It’s understandable that a private detective or investigation company does not want to provide names of their detectives and operatives or too much detail on their processes as this may affect the investigation.

However, it’s good to know who’s who and who will be doing what, roughly speaking. At least ensuring you know the basic details – enough so as to feel involved and that things aren’t being kept from you. If they are, that’s another red flag.

Are You Willing To Be A Witness In Court If Needed?

Even if you may not expect it, your case could lead to legal proceedings. So it’s good to know that your private detective or investigation company will stand up when it counts, even if this is simply a signed witness statement

How Does Your Fee System Work?

Can they transparently set out how their fee system works? If their website doesn’t display their fee system, ask. Don’t let fees by one of the surprises in your case.

At PDL we aim to be as open as we safely, responsibly, professionally can on every element of how we work. You can read about our fee system here.

Ultimately, when working with a private detective it’s really important that you trust them, have faith in the experience/credentials, and are comfortable working with them. So make sure you ask the questions you want to ask, and have the conversations to need to have, to get to that position.