Citizens Advice announces campaign to tackle scams
Citizens Advice is launching a new campaign to target scammers and rogue traders who prey on recession-hit consumers.
The campaign across England and Wales highlights growing concerns that the recession is providing opportunities for consumers to be exploited at a time when they are most vulnerable.
People looking for work, trying to get better deals on essential services, or trying to get help with debts, are among those being exploited, according to a Citizens Advice survey of more than 4,200 people.
The survey covered 10 common scams which range from bogus job ads to phantom flats and fake lottery wins. The five most common problems reported by survey respondents were:
- Switching – while switching can be the smart thing to do, 50% of consumers surveyed mentioned problems they have had with doorstep offers to ‘save money’ by switching gas, electricity or phone suppliers, but end up paying more;
- Debt advice firms – mentioned by 46%. This refers to taking huge amounts in fees but not sorting out people’s debts;
- Prizes – mentioned by 34%. Where people pay fees but there’s no prize
- Building work – mentioned by 32%. Where rogue traders taking money for shoddy, incomplete or non-existent work.
- Loan offers – mentioned by 31%. Where you pay fees but don’t get a loan.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy says “Advisers, enforcers, regulators and consumers need to join forces and work together more closely than ever before to beat rogue traders and fraudsters.
“Con merchants have never had it so good. The recession has provided an opening for money-making scams and sharp practices disguised as sources of help. Rogue traders are taking advantage of consumers desperate to find ways of saving money, earning more, getting a job or finding somewhere affordable to live.
“At Citizens Advice, we’re helping people tackle problems with con merchants across the country. Because consumer protection funding is being squeezed, it’s hard for regulators and enforcers to keep pace with new scams and take action in every case. So consumers need advice, enforcement, regulation and redress agencies to work even more closely to stamp out fraud and scams.”
Ron Gainsford, Chief Executive of The Trading Standards Institute, said: “Tackling rogue traders and scammers is a big priority for trading standards; these unscrupulous criminals know how to take advantage of desperate consumers and these difficult times, and can have a devastating impact on peoples’ lives.
“Partnership working is an integral part of tackling the scourge of rogue traders work and we welcome this campaign as we must take every opportunity to raise awareness and to empower consumers to protect themselves and to make the right choices.
“We are pleased to note that one of the top concerns to come from the Citizens Advice scam survey has now virtually been eradicated thanks to campaigning by the Trading Standards Institute and other consumer organisations: five out of the six big energy companies have agreed to stop doorstep selling.
“The Trading Standards Institute annual National Consumer Week taking place from 21 November is yet again putting the spotlight on scammers with a ‘Good Sports Don’t Fake It’ campaign that we are delivering in partnership with Citizens Advice.”
Jamey Johnson, Head of Action Fraud (Action Fraud is run by the National Fraud Authority), says “Fraudsters fling their nets wide, regularly snagging the most vulnerable with offers of non-existent prizes and loans. Action Fraud provides a wide range of advice and support to people in dealing with these fraudulent approaches, including taking reports from victims. It’s vital to help people recognise when offers aren’t genuine, so we welcome Citizen Advice’s report and campaign in this area.”
The survey follows a Citizens Advice evidence report called Desperate Times, Desperate Consumers which warns that the recession has provided rogue traders with opportunities to make money out of people who are seeking to manage their more restricted finances.
Citizens Advice will use the results of the survey to help prioritise scam-busting activities including educating consumers and calling for more effective regulation and enforcement where appropriate.
A high priority of the campaign will be ensuring that the network of nearly 400 Citizens Advice Bureaux works with local partners, particularly Trading Standards, to provide consumers with clear, speedy information on how to avoid scammers.
Tips for avoiding scams
Every year, an estimated three million people fall victim to scammers. Here are some things people can do to avoid scams:
- Be sceptical – if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. If in doubt bin it, delete it or hang up.
- Take your time – a genuine offer shouldn’t demand you make an instant decision. Explore your options.
- Whether you are contacted by post, email or on your doorstep, find out who you are dealing with and check with friends family and trusted organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, ConsumerDirect, and ActionFraud. For financial matters, check with the Financial Services Authority.
- Trustworthy firms will never ask you for your bank account details and passwords. Never give these to someone you don’t know, and never pay for debt advice.
- Reduce unwanted post by registering with the Mailing Preference Service at www.mpsonline.org.uk or by phoning 0845 703 4599. This is free. Reduce unsolicited phone calls by registering your phone with the Telephone Preference Service: www.tpsonline.org.uk, or by phoning 0845 070 0707
- www.stayprivate.org, run by Consumer Focus, allows you to register for mail preference service and telephone preference service all at once, and offers tips on reducing unwanted mail.
Notes to editors:
- The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
- The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
- To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
- You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
- Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
- Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.