General English


  • noun a fraud, an illegal or dishonest scheme


  • noun a dishonest plan to deceive someone, especially in order to obtain money


  • noun a deception, fraud, swindle or confidence trick. This Americanism entered fashionable British usage around 1977, subsequently becoming fairly widespread, particularly in business parlance. ‘Scampery’ was British slang for a highway robbery in the 18th century, a word later used by vagrants, showmen, etc. This, via American adoption, may explain the modern term (the similarity with ‘scheme’ is probably fortuitous). By the late 1980s scam had come sometimes to be used to mean merely a ‘dubious scheme or display’.
  • verb to perpetrate a fraud, deception or devious scheme. The verb is derived from the noun.