Think You Know How to Spot a Scam? New Visa Report Finds That Even Savvy Consumers Get Tripped Up by the Language of Fraud

'Winning,' 'free gift,' 'exclusive deal,' 'act now' are among top language traps cited in Visa’s 'Fraudulese: The Language of Fraud' report


Visa and Wakefield partnered on this study to help consumers understand the language of fraud used by scammers.

SAN FRANCISCO--()--It's not your imagination. Digital scams are everywhere in our daily lives. And as the holiday season approaches, fraudsters are counting on you to let your guard down and take the bait. Whether in the workplace or on the go, we're peppered by phone, text and email with offers for "free gifts" and traps to "act now" to supply personal information before a vital service gets cut off. And this barrage of “fraudulese” is working.

A new research report out today from Visa (NYSE: V), in partnership with Wakefield Research, “Fraudulese: The Language of Fraud,” brings to light that when it comes to spotting scams, cybercriminals are finding vulnerabilities among even the most tech-savvy consumers. While nearly half of the population are confident they can recognize a scam, 73% are likely to miss the requisite red flags in digital communications.

From a spoofed service notification from your electric company, to an email alerting you that you’ve won products from your favorite store, or even job postings that make it seem like you’ve been hired by a top-tier company, scams hit almost every touchpoint in our digital lives. In the last year alone, Visa has proactively blocked $7.2 billion in attempted fraudulent payments across 122 million transactions before those transactions impacted clients.

“Understanding the language of fraud is increasingly essential in our digital-first world. Scammers have reached new heights of sophistication in both language and variety – no one is immune,” said Paul Fabara, Chief Risk Officer, Visa. “Education around the language of scams is an integral part of our consumer protection, and highlighting the commonalities in the language of fraud helps prevent crime globally.”

Earlier this year as part of Visa’s efforts to empower consumers to learn about the language of fraud, the company commissioned a first-of-its-kind linguistic analysis by researchers in the U.K. revealing how language can be used by fraudsters in short messages. The study revealed that solutions inviting consumers to engage with a problem or offer are the most common fraudulent message, occurring in 87% of the scam text messages, while problem statements that provoke action from the recipient were the second most common.

“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,” said Dr. Marton Petyko, from the Aston Institute for Forensic Linguistics, which conducted the U.K. research.

Exploring The Language of Fraud: A Disconnect Between Awareness and Action

Falling victim to cyber fraud is costly. In 2021, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported a record number of complaints, with potential losses exceeding $6.9 billion, up from $4.1 billion in 2020.

According to Visa’s new report, which surveyed 6,000 adults in 18 markets worldwide, scammers appear to be thriving in the gap between consumers’ awareness of the language of fraud and their actual behavior. Among the top findings:

  • We think others are more susceptible to fraud than we are. While consumers feel confident in their own vigilance, the vast majority (90%) are concerned that friends or family members may fall for potential scams that include emails or text messages asking people to verify their account information, asking about overdrawn banking accounts and notifying them about winning a gift card or product from an online shopping site.

    The most enticing clickbait messages capitalize on consumer excitement, and fraudulently tout “winning,” “exclusive deals” or “free gift,” the survey found.
  • Is it legitimate? More than 4 in 5 (81%) respondents check the wrong details to determine the authenticity of a communication, focusing on features scammers can easily fake, including the company’s name or logo (46%). Individuals can better protect themselves from fraudsters by checking details that are harder to fake, such as account numbers or details about their interactions with the company.
  • Overlooking telltale signs. Only 60% of people reported looking to ensure a communication is sent from a valid email address. Fewer than half (47%) look to ensure words are spelled properly.
  • Crypto users proceed with caution. Crypto users are more likely to identify the right kind of verifying elements of a potential scam than non-crypto owners. For example, they are more likely to check their account information (49% vs 37%) to confirm the validity of digital communications.

Take a Few Extra Moments to Decipher Fraudulese

Consumers can better protect themselves by taking a few extra moments before clicking, including taking time to understand the way fraudsters use language. Among simple, but effective best practices: Keep personal information to yourself. Don’t click on links before verifying they’ll take you where they say they will. Turn on purchase alerts, which provide near real-time notification by text message or email of purchases made with your account. Call the number on corporate websites or the back of your credit and debit cards if you are unsure if a communication is valid – don't just call the number possibly provided by the scammer in their text or email.

Protection Is Visa’s Top Priority

While cybercrime persists in an increasingly digital world, Visa is mission-driven to protect consumers and mitigate fraud. Over the past five years, the company has invested more than $10 billion in technology, including to reduce fraud and increase network security. More than a thousand dedicated specialists protect Visa’s network from malware, zero-day attacks and insider threats 24x7x365. In fact, over the last 12 months, Visa’s real-time monitoring has proactively blocked over $7.2 billion in fraudulent payments, preventing many from ever knowing they were at risk of a potential fraudulent transaction. Learn more at

About Visa

Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) is the world’s leader in digital payments. Our mission is to connect the world through the most innovative, reliable and secure payment network - enabling individuals, businesses and economies to thrive. Our advanced global processing network, VisaNet, provides secure and reliable payments around the world, and is capable of handling more than 65,000 transaction messages a second. The company’s relentless focus on innovation is a catalyst for the rapid growth of digital commerce on any device for everyone, everywhere. As the world moves from analog to digital, Visa is applying our brand, products, people, network and scale to reshape the future of commerce. For more information, visit About Visa, and @VisaNews.


Meg Omecene


Meg Omecene