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Delete it Bin it Hang up! Outsmart the scammers – 31/01/2013
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) is today launching its Scams Awareness Month campaign, which runs throughout February, and is asking the public to help in the fight back against the scammers.
Domain Scams, TSS’s consumer advice helpline, has received over 1000 scam complaints from Northern Ireland consumers in the last year, with over half of those scammed losing more than £50 and the most unfortunate losing tens of thousands of pounds.
The most common complaints are about advance fee loan scams, payment protection insurance reclaiming, computer virus scams, counterfeit goods, doorstep selling scams, foreign lotteries, and business scams.
Stephen Thompson, Domain Scams Manager, said: “Scams Awareness Month will help raise awareness of mass marketed scams by mail, emails and phone calls. Every day, people are at risk from unscrupulous fraudsters who want to con them out of their cash and it is important that consumers recognise the increasingly sophisticated methods of scammers.”
Damien Doherty, Fair Trading Area Inspector for TSS said: “While many people are all too familiar with scammers and their tactics, there are still those, particularly the more vulnerable, who do not have the awareness to be able to defy the tricksters and conmen.
“Everyday we receive more and more complaints from consumers who realise they have been conned. It is heartbreaking and frustrating to hear the same stories of scam victims time and time again. By shining the spotlight on the scams, as well as the tactics used by the fraudsters, we hope to raise awareness among the public of the type of scams out there and ask them to delete their con emails, bin their scam mail and hang up on bogus callers to fight back against the conmen.”
TSS officers will be on hand to answer questions and give advice on scams and other consumer queries at shopping centres in Belfast, Ballymena, Enniskillen, Derry and Newry over the coming weeks.
Mr Doherty added, “We are calling on the public to help us beat the scammers by taking part in Scams Awareness Month. We are asking consumers to bring their scam mailings and emails to our bins at the road shows. The information collected will be vital in helping TSS gather intelligence on the latest scams and in stopping the worst offenders from bringing misery to thousands of vulnerable people each year.”
“Many scams are well organised and involve companies based overseas which makes investigation and prosecution difficult. Once again we are urging people to be on their guard and protect themselves from becoming the victim of a scam. Despite the best efforts of Trading Standards, the majority of victims may never get their money back.”
To help protect yourself and those you care about, TSS is encouraging people to remember the following tips:
- Delete it – Bin it – Hang up! If it looks too good to be true it probably is.
- Do not be rushed into sending off money to someone you do not know, however plausible they might sound and even where an approach is personalised.
- Ask yourself how likely it is that you have been especially chosen for this offer – thousands of other people will probably have received the same offer.
- Think about how much money you could lose from replying to a potential scam – it’s not a gamble worth taking.
If you are the victim of a scam, or have information about a suspected scam, tell family and friends and contact Domain Scams on 0300 123 62 62 or log on to http://www.domainscams.co.uk or contact us via our Facebook page at ‘Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service’. Domain Scams is the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s consumer advice helpline.
1. During Scams Awareness Month, TSS will take their road shows to the following locations:
- Belfast – Castlecourt – Thu 31st Jan & Fri 1st Feb
- Ballymena – Fairhill Shopping Centre – Thu 7th Feb & Fri 8th Feb
- Enniskillen – Erneside Shopping Centre – Thu 14th Feb & Fri 15th Feb
- Derry – Foyleside Shopping Centre – Thu 21st Feb & Fri 22nd Feb
- Newry – Buttercrane Shopping Centre – Thu 28th Feb & Sat 2nd March
2. The top five most complained about scams:
- Fake credit providers/ online loan applications –January can be a time when consumers find it difficult to make ends meet and many are forced to borrow money to pay for food and presents. The scammers prey on those who have a poor credit history or need money quickly. A person will typically reply to an advert for a fast loan and will have their application approved regardless of their credit history. Before they receive the loan, they are told they must pay an upfront fee to cover insurance for the loan. In most cases, consumers are asked to send money to India as “admin fees”. Once this fee is paid, the victim does not hear from the company again and the loan is never received. Be wise – Be very careful when dealing with loan companies that charge upfront fees. Don’t believe adverts that claim that a loan is guaranteed. Do not wire money to loan companies using money transfer when applying for loans.
- Fake websites selling counterfeit goods– The most common complaints are about GHD hair straighteners, UGG boots and jewellery, however consumers have also reported buying a wide variety of fake goods ranging from make-up to iPods. The main areas of risk are auction sites and entirely fake websites. It is always best to stick to familiar brand-name or retailer websites. You can also use search engines to research a website to see if people have had problems with them. Shoppers should be aware that a site ending .co.uk does not mean the trader is based in the UK. A seller based abroad can often be impossible to trace. Police in the UK have recently closed down 1,200 sites.
- Remote PC Support – In this latest scam, householders receive a phone call from a person claiming to represent major PC or software companies. Some of the callers claim that the consumer’s home PC has a virus, system crash or is running slowly. They go on to say that they can resolve the ‘problem’ with the computer remotely – if the consumer gives them their credit card details and/or remote access to their PC. Be wise – be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company. Never provide personal information, such as credit card or bank details, to an unsolicited caller. Do not go to a website, type anything into a computer, install software or follow any other instruction from someone who calls out of the blue.
- Business to business charity scams – A telesales agent will call and ask if you want to place an advertisement in a publication for a seemingly good cause. The caller will give you the impression that the publisher is affiliated with local charities, emergency services, crime prevention and community health initiatives. The scammers associate themselves with a good cause to encourage you to place an order. Again, whatever they say they’ll be producing either never gets published, or in such small quantities that it’s of no use. Furthermore, the caller may also record the phone call and carefully word what they say to sound like you are agreeing to place an advertisement, even if you have just requested further information.
- Online ticket scams – You buy tickets from a website but after you have paid the tickets are not delivered and your calls and emails go unanswered. Sometimes you are told that a customer representative will meet you at the venue on the day but nobody turns up. You are left out of pocket and unable to attend the event. What do you know about the company you are buying from? Where is their office? Companies must supply the full geographic address where their business is established, not just a PO Box or mailbox number. Check out the address using a search engine – you can often find out if it is just a mail forwarding service.
3. Consumers can also report all types of scams at http://www.domainscams.co.uk/report-a-scam
4. While an estimated three million people fall victim to mass marketed scams every year in the UK, research suggests that less than 5% of victims report the scam to the authorities. Scams received by post, email or by telephone, include bogus lotteries, deceptive prize draws and sweepstakes, fake psychics and miracle health cures. The most susceptible to such scams are the elderly and vulnerable in society.
5. TSS’s advice to anyone who receives a possible scam offer is: ‘Stop, think, and think again’. Do not be rushed into sending off money straight away to someone you do not know. How likely is it that you have been especially chosen for this offer? Thousands of other people are likely to have received the same offer. Think again – read the offer carefully. If you are unsure, speak to family or friends or seek advice.