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Scam Alert

Get wise to Top 10 Scams this Christmas – 15/12/2009

As Christmas approaches, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) says its time for the public to give themselves a Christmas present and fight back against the scammers

SCAMS such as bogus lotteries and prize draws cost Northern Ireland consumers an estimated £100million in 2009.

As Christmas approaches, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) says its time for the public to give themselves a Christmas present and fight back against the scammers.

Consumers are being urged to be on their guard against the top 10 most common scams of 2009, and to take extra care with personal and computer security.
The most common scams reported to TSS are:

·  Debt elimination – This involves cold calling by businesses that have no detailed knowledge of the consumers’ credit agreements. They claim many of agreements are completely unenforceable, leading the consumer to believe their debts can be cancelled and that they may even be able to claim back thousands of pounds. A large up-front fee, often up to £1,000, is asked for so the company can review their credit agreements. In reality, many of the claims are exaggerated and there is only limited evidence of success, when consumers have received money back. Be wise – Never give you credit or debit card details over the phone to someone you don’t know. Ask yourself: ‘Is it really this easy to get my debts written off?’

·  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 shoes to iPods. Be wise -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.

·  ‘Free Trial’ slimming and beauty products– Consumers are led to believe that, when purchasing their free sample online, they are paying only for its postage and packaging. However, they had in fact signed up to a £69 per month regular supply of the product. Be wise – Always read the terms and conditions carefully to know exactly what they are signing up to. Miracle health scams often target vulnerable people, such as those who are desperate to lose weight or find a cure for illness.

·  Satellite Insurance – Letters or telephone calls are received from insurance salesmen who claim to represent ‘Sky’. Consumers are led to believe that their existing satellite insurance cover is due to expire and they have been offered another contract for 12 months, at a payment of approximately £7 per month. Customers who agreed to a new contract are asked to provide their bank account details, resulting in them paying for two satellite insurance contracts. Be wise – If the call is legitimate, the company should already have customers’ bank account details on record

·  Vehicle matching – This scam works by promising to match consumers who are selling their cars, with definite buyers. Typically, the seller is cold-called by telephone, having placed an advertisement in a magazine, website or newspaper. The seller is assured that a buyer exists for the vehicle which they are selling, however, it is a condition that they pay a ‘matcher’s fee’ of £99 up front before the sale is completed. In reality, there is no buyer, the contract with the vehicle matcher cannot be cancelled and any money paid is lost. Be wise – If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do not be pressured into anything and if in doubt about a particular telephone call, hang up.

·  Business publishing – Scammers target businesses as well as consumers. You may be told you have placed an order previously or that someone else in your business has agreed to take out advertising space. 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. Rogue publishers may send invoices to businesses who had said no to their telephones sales pitch or follow up the invoices with threats of legal action. Be wise – Do not agree to place an advert over the telephone unless you are absolutely sure about the publisher you are dealing with. Do not take the caller’s word for it that you have placed an order previously or that someone in your organisation has agreed to take an order. Insist on seeing written details and a copy of the publisher’s full terms and conditions before placing an order.

·  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. Be wise – 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.

·  Pay-in-advance credit offers – Companies claim that you have ‘pre-qualified’ to get a low-interest loan or credit card, or repair your bad credit even though banks have turned you down. But to take advantage of the offer, you have to pay a processing fee of several hundred pounds. A legitimate pre-qualified offer means you’ve been selected to apply. You still have to complete an application and you can still be turned down. Be wise – Don’t pay for a promise. Legitimate lenders never ‘guarantee’ a card or loan before you apply. They may require that you pay application, appraisal, or credit report fees, but these fees are not usually asked for before the lender is identified and the application is completed.

·  Phishing– A scam email is received purporting to be from HM Revenue & Customs that suggests the recipient is eligible for a tax refund and that they should complete a claim form online. Be wise – If you receive any suspicious emails, you should delete them. HMRC would never contact you in this way.

·  Health & Safety – This is another con that targets businesses. Traders are cold-called by the scam company which offers to provide services to enable the business to comply with health & safety legal requirements and claims to be working for the government. Be wise – The Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland does not cold-call businesses.

Damien Doherty, Trading Standards Service said: “While we may all think that we are too canny to get caught out by the scammers, evidence shows otherwise. There has been an upturn in complaints since the beginning of the recession. The Trading Standards Service is continuing to actively promote awareness of common scams and help ensure that all consumers in Northern Ireland have the tools and skills they need to recognise, report and combat scams.”

If you are the victim of a scam, or have information about a suspected scam, tell family and friends and contact Domain Scams on 0845 600 6262 or 028 9025 3900 or log on to www.domainscams.co.uk Domain Scams is the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s consumer advice helpline.

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