Scam warning issued

EDITORIAL IMAGE
EDITORIAL IMAGE

Trading Standards is calling on local people to expose scams and help stop more people from falling prey to clever cons that fleece them of thousands of pounds.

Scams Awareness Month runs throughout July and this year’s campaign “Don’t be Rushed, Don’t be Hushed” aims to highlight how scams continue to flourish when people stay silent.

The national campaign will be supported locally by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s Trading Standards Service.

The campaign is asking people to keep two things in mind whenever they receive an unsolicited approach or when looking for goods or services: don’t be rushed and don’t be hushed. People should take their time making a decision and be sure of their facts before parting with money or personal information, and speak out when they think they’ve spotted a scam.

Consumerline, TSS’s consumer advice helpline, has received over 1,000 scam complaints from Northern Ireland consumers in the last year. Some estimates of the total cost of mass-marketed scams are as high as £100million, but the truth is, with reporting levels as low as 5%, this cost could be far higher. TSS is encouraging consumers to report suspicious activities, get advice if they think they’ve been conned, and to warn others to help stop scams from spreading.

The most common complaints received are about free trial scams, advance fee loan scams, counterfeit goods, fake websites, and mass marketed mail scams.

Stephen Thompson, Consumerline Manager, said: “Scams Awareness Month will help raise awareness of scams which target consumers by mail, emails, phone calls and texts. 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.”

Laura Kane, Trading Standards Inspector, said, “Protecting vulnerable people from scams is a task which trading standards take very seriously. We deal with heart breaking cases of financial loss and mental anguish. Unfortunately a huge number of scams go unreported, leaving the path clear for these scammers to devastate and destroy lives.

“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. Scams thrive on silence. Fraudsters know that victims are often too ashamed to share what happened to them, meaning that scams can continue to spread unchecked. We’re urging people to lift the lid on scams and start talking about suspicious email, junk mail, online ads, telephone calls or door-to-door sellers operating in their area.”

12 tell tale signs for spotting scams:

● If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

● If you haven’t bought a ticket – you can’t win it.

● You shouldn’t have to pay anything to get a prize.

● If in doubt, don’t reply. Bin it, delete it or hang up.

● Contacted out of the blue? – Be suspicious.

● Don’t be rushed – Resist pressure to make a decision straight away.

● Never send money to someone you have never met.

● Walk away from job ads that ask for money in advance.

● Your bank will never attend your home to collect cash, your pin, payment card or chequebook if you are a victim of fraud.

● Your bank will never phone you to ask for your PIN or your online banking password.

● Your bank will never ask you to transfer money to a new account for fraud reasons.

● Suspect a phone scam? Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or use another phone to call your bank.

● Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer.

If you are the victim of a scam, or have information about a suspected scam, tell family and friends and contact Consumerline by phone on 0300 123 62 62, online at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/consumerline or alternatively contact us via our Facebook page at ‘Northern Ireland Trading Standards Service’. Consumerline is the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s consumer advice helpline.

1. The top most complained about scams:

· Free trial scams – With summer upon us a lot of people want to look their best and are enticed by online offers of “free trial” slimming pills, health supplements, tooth whitening kits or beauty products. These scams see consumers trapped into long term costly contracts as the terms and conditions are buried in the small print, with consumers thinking they are only entering their card details to pay a small fee for postage and packaging. It is only when checking their bank account that consumers realise they have been charged lump sums or regular payments, with average losses of £135.

· Fake credit providers/ online loan applications - These 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- This covers a wide variety of items, with recent complaints relating to fake MAC makeup, fake clothing, handbags and jewellery, fake electrical equipment like Beats by Dre headphones and speakers, fake alcohol, toiletries and washing powder. The main areas of risk are auction sites, fake websites and Facebook. 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 2,500 websites, and on Facebook, 4,300 Facebook listings and 20 profiles have been removed.

Consumers may think they are getting a bargain, but counterfeit goods do not go through the same rigorous quality and safety checks as the real thing, and the money obtained from the sale of counterfeit goods can fund organised crime.

· Mass Marketed Mail Scams – In these type of scams the victim receives unsolicited mail relating to: - Fake lotteries in which the victim has to pay fees to receive a prize that never comes; clairvoyants offering good fortune in return for payment or the purchase of lucky charms; fake charity scams; health product scams; romance scams; and share sale or land banking scams. The victims of these types of scams tend to be the elderly and vulnerable in society and the scammers use convincing and persuasive techniques in order to get the victims to part with their cash, which in some instances has amounted to the victim’s life savings. These scams are particularly dangerous and can have devastating effects on people’s lives. Over 1000 people in Northern Ireland are on what’s called the “suckers list”, a name given by scammers to a list of people’s names, addresses and telephone numbers who the scammers reckon they can obtain money from. Replying to just one scam phone call/text or letter can cause a person to be added to the list and they will be bombarded with more scams. £10billion is lost every year in the UK to these scams. TSS is in the process of warning people named on the “suckers list”, and would encourage the public to contact Consumerline on 0300 123 62 62 of they or anyone they know are being targeted by these scams.

· Phishing, Vishing and SMShing: Phishing is where an email apparently from the receiver’s bank arrives requesting them to update, validate or confirm details. It’s designed to trick people into revealing personal information and passwords so that scammers can access their account. Phishing emails can also include links which infect the victim’s computer or device with malware resulting in theft of online account details. Vishing is a phone scam where fraudsters impersonate someone from a bank, the police or other legitimate organisation such as a telephone or internet provider. Increasingly, this scam involves the victim being persuaded to transfer their money to a new ‘safe’ account. SMShing involves mobile phone text messages sent to lure people onto fraudulent websites or invite them to call a premium rate mobile number or download malicious content via the phone or web. These texts often appear to be from the recipient’s bank or appear to relate to an order they have made.