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Online dating, bogus holidays and con-concerts are common summer scams

23 July 2013

Citizens Advice warns of summer scams

While we may have struck gold with the weather this summer Brits could get their fingers burnt as scammers look to prey on concert-goers, holiday-makers and those looking for love.

Citizens Advice and Consumer Minister, Jo Swinson, are warning people to watch out for cons. Details of common scams that can be rife in summer are released today, based on evidence from across the Citizens Advice service.

Over 22,000 reports of scams were made to the Citizens Advice service in England and Wales between April 2012 and March 2013.  According to the Office of Fair Trading almost half of us (48%) are targeted by scams, with 3 million falling victim to cons costing individuals a total of £3.5 billion a year.

Summer-related scams revealed by Citizens Advice:

Fake event tickets: Scam ticket websites that claim to be able to sell you tickets for popular events but, after you've paid, the tickets never arrive and your calls and emails aren't answered.

One person booked tickets to a concert a year before the gig but never received the tickets and was then unable to get in touch with the seller. The website would not load and the phone line had been cut off.

Timeshare tricks and holiday club horrors: Timeshare and holiday club scams come in all shapes and sizes, from getting you signed up in the first place to resale scams.

People often receive an unexpected phone call, telling them they have won a prize.  They are then pressured into signing a timeshare agreement which they then struggle to cancel.  Many pay into a timeshare or holiday club scheme but never get a holiday.

There are also problems when it comes to selling a timeshare. Timeshare owners are contacted out of the blue by companies who offer to sell their timeshare on their behalf.  The customer pays an up front fee only to find that their timeshare isn’t sold – or that it is but they don’t get any of the money.

An 80 year old widow lost £1,295 after she paid it as a deposit to sell her timeshare. She was contacted out of the blue by a company saying they had a buyer for her timeshare, however she later found out it was a scam.

Phony flights: Consumers buy flights, often online, paying the full cost up front. Tickets never arrive and travellers are unable to contact the company.

One CAB client spent £400 on a flight to Jamaica, which they bought online, but the tickets never turned up.

Online dating dupes: Summer of love turns into a scammer of love as dating websites take £150 after promising just a £5 up front fee was necessary and that customers can cancel within one month, but then struggle to do so.

Scammers have used online dating website to con people out of thousands of pounds.  

A man lost £7,000 after transferring the money to a Bulgarian woman he met online so she could come to the UK.  After she received the money, he did not hear anymore from her.

Shady sun cream: Consumers could get their fingers burnt by accidently buying sun cream which turns out to be fake.  Dodgy traders are also known to have sold sun screen past its use-by-date.

A man and his young daughter suffered serious sun burn after buying sun cream which he later believed to be fake.  He had used the same sun cream product before and it worked fine, but the batch bought online looked different to what he had bought before and didn’t work.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“For most of us the summertime is an opportunity to relax, recharge our batteries and make the most of the fun activities on offer.  Yet scammers are opportunists who lurch from one con to another, using seasonal trends, like holiday bookings and concerts, to rip-off innocent people.

“The age old saying of 'if it's too good to be true it probably is' still stands yet cons are becoming more and more sophisticated. There are steps you can take to protect yourself from scammers, like checking you are on a secure payment site if paying online, where possible paying by credit card and looking to see if traders are authorised, for example checking a holiday firm is ATOL bonded.”

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said:

“The summer holidays are a perfect opportunity to enjoy the sunshine, whether at home or abroad. Unfortunately, it is also a time when scammers prey on vulnerable consumers. We are determined to clamp down on this criminal behaviour.

“Citizens Advice’s top summer tips released today mean consumers can now identify scams and report them easily, helping us stop scammers in their tracks. Anybody who feels as though they have been scammed should contact the Citizens Advice helpline on 08454 040506 or via their website www.adviceguide.org.uk.”

Twelve tips to avoid summer scams

  1. Be suspicious if tickets are being sold for events that have already sold out or haven’t officially gone on sale.  Use sites that have a red, black and white kitemark provided by the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (STAR) with the words ‘secure tickets from authorised retailers’ and those that are members of the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents (ASTA).
  2. Be very wary of letters, phone calls or emails from holiday companies or timeshare firms you don’t know offering you deals out of the blue.
  3. If you already belong to a holiday club, beware of companies who offer to buy your membership. You could end up losing money by making upfront payments or with a second holiday club membership that you don’t want.
  4. If you already own a timeshare, beware of resale scams. You could end up losing money by making upfront payments or with a second timeshare that you don’t want.
  5. Before booking a holiday, check that your tour operator or travel agent is signed up to a holiday protection scheme such as the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and Air Travel Organisers’ licensing (ATOL) or The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).
  6. Buy travel insurance as soon as you book any flights or a holiday, which will give you extra protection if your holiday doesn't go as planned.
  7. If you are joining a dating website, make sure you know what you are signing up to by reading the terms and conditions clearly and understand the cancellation period.
  8. Check sun cream packaging carefully and only buy from reputable sellers. That way you are more likely to get the product you expect and have a way to contact the trader if something goes wrong.
  9. If you are buying online, check the site has a secure payment page – the page address should start  ‘https’ and may have a padlock on the payment screen.
  10. Use the internet to get feedback about the website or company – look for comments from buyers about whether they have received event or flight tickets, or how their holiday went.
  11. Check contact details for the website - there should be a landline phone number and a full postal address. Avoid using the site if there is only a PO box address and mobile phone number, as it could be difficult to get in touch after you buy tickets.
  12. If you pay by credit or debit card you might be able to get money back from your card provider if you are having difficulties sorting out a problem with the seller.

If you spot a scam or believe you may have been scammed you can contact your local Citizens Advice Bureaux or the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06 (for advice in Welsh phone 08454 04 05 05).

Notes to editors:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.