Don’t fall for the fraudsters: tackling the scammers head on

It’s national scams awareness month and Devon & Somerset Trading Standards Service is encouraging everyone to be vigilant and protect themselves against scams.

By far the best weapon against scam operators is knowledge and the more people talk about scams, the less impact the scammers are likely to have.

There are numerous different types of scams and the Devon & Somerset Trading Standards Service has received nearly 1800 complaints in the last year alone via Citizens Advice. Go here for a full explanation of the more common types of scams.

Some of the most complained about ones include free trial scams – websites that claim to offer a new product for free, but the small print reveals that regular payments will be taken from your account. One victim lost nearly £1000 to this fraud.

Credit broker scams – websites that offer to find loans for people.  Once a person’s details are received, they are sold on to multiple companies, all of whom will then try to take payments.  Needless to say loans are rarely actually forthcoming.  The trader may also ask for upfront payments to help facilitate the ‘loan’. Nearly £3000 was the sum lost by a resident.

Claims management scams – cold callers offering to pursue a legal claim, such as PPI or accidents.  They often charge a large upfront fee and then vanish, or take a large cut of any pay out. A victim was duped out of £2200.

Doorstep rogue traders – gangs of workmen travelling up and down the country and offering to do work on houses, driveways or gardens. Intimidation tactics are usually used to ensure payment such as driving victims to the bank to withdraw cash. In just one instance, nearly £14,000 was lost.

Cash prize letters – letters claiming a win on a lottery or cash prize but asking for an upfront fee before they will send out the non-existent winnings. This type of mass marketing scam is at the heart of the think Jessica campaign and Devon and Somerset’s Trading Standard’s scams intervention work. A single victim lost £300,000 in a run of these scams.

Cabinet member with responsibility for Trading Standards in Devon, Cllr Roger Croad said; “Scams can come in all shapes and sizes, so never give money or financial details to anyone you’re not certain of and never to anyone who calls out of the blue. Most scams work by casting a wide net and contacting hundreds of people in the hope that a few will pay out. Remember the old saying, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Cabinet member with responsibility for Trading Standards in Somerset, Cllr David Hall said; “One of the priority areas for Devon & Somerset Trading Standards is reducing the trauma suffered by victims of recognised scams. We want to safeguard and protect those who are potentially vulnerable and make sure they are aware of this type of fraud. So if you have an eldery relative, a neighbour or anyone in your community or family who you feel could fall for one of these, make sure you give them the facts. You can take the short training session on the Devon & Somerset Trading Standards website to prepare.”

The Trading Standards team now has details of over 3000 potential scam targets and is working with the National Scams Team to offer support and advice to those identified. They will be providing information about mass marketing scams, Think JessicaAction Fraud and Buy With Confidence.

In addition, officers are visiting over 70 residents to return money found after investigations into a scam operator.

If residents are concerned about a scam, or have a consumer issue they can call the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506 for free impartial advice on their rights.

Residents can also find out more about the latest scams by following Devon & Somerset Trading Standards on twitter or facebook @tsconnected and by looking for the tag #ScamAware.

All matters reported to the Consumer Service are shared with Trading Standards in order that those with a criminal element can be investigated. If people are concerned that someone is at immediate risk of harm, always call 999.

To learn more about scams, and to take the online Scams & Doorstep crime training, visit the Devon & Somerset Trading Standards Service website.

Scams awareness month is an initiative run by the Citizens advice Consumer Service, The Chartered Trading Standards Institute and local Trading Standards Departments.