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Rogues enjoying a double-dupe recession

1 May 2013

Scams Awareness Month – May 2013

Scammers are enjoying a ‘double-dupe recession’ as they prey on people who are struggling to find work or battling with money problems, says Citizens Advice.

New figures reveal over 22,000 reports of scams were made to the Citizens Advice service in England and Wales the last 12 months¹.  Yet Citizens Advice says many fail to report if they have been ripped-off.

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 year².

Citizens Advice and Trading Standards are running Scams Awareness Month throughout May warning people to be ever-vigilant against rogues and urging people to ‘spot scams to stop scams.’

An analysis of the Citizens Advice scams scanner – which has tracked cons since 2007 - revealed opportunistic con artists are targeting people who have fallen on hard times with offers of phoney jobs, training and debt scams.  The double-dupe scams which have emerged during the recession are:

Training and job ploys: paying for a phantom training course with the false promise of a job or working on a commission basis only to find the firm is a fake and they don’t make any money.

Dangerous debt help: offers of loans or help to clear debts which carries an upfront fee but they never get a loan or help to sort out their debts.

Citizens Advice is also concerned that rogues will seek to profit from changes to the benefit system, particularly with the introduction to the so-called bedroom tax and localisation of council tax benefit.  Our evidence shows that, in the past, people have been ripped off by fake landlords who take deposits for properties that don’t exist or aren’t available for rent and rogues have targeted people looking to reduce their council tax bill by charging for rebanding that doesn’t happen.  

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“Scammers have never had it so good as they exploit difficult economic times.  For most people the recession has been really tough but it’s a different story for rogues and tricksters as they’ve cashed in on other people’s misfortune.  We’re seeing people who have been dealt a double blow by losing their job and then losing money while trying to find a new one.

“This month we are warning people to be on the look out for rogues looking to make a quick buck at their expense and reminding that scams are crimes so it is vital they are reported.”   

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson said:

"Scams awareness month is an excellent example of the coordinated efforts taking place to raise awareness and stop scammers in their tracks. We have seen some shocking examples of scammers preying on vulnerable consumers and we are determined to clamp down on this criminal behaviour.

“The substantial changes we have made to the consumer protection system over the past year mean it is now easier and simpler for consumers to report scams and seek advice through services such as the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline 08454 04 05 06. In the last year alone, Scambusters teams have uncovered fraud worth £140m. I am sure this month’s campaign will be a fruitful exercise in helping consumers to identify new and dangerous scams.”

The Trading Standards Institute’s Chief Executive Leon Livermore said:

“Day in day out trading standards officers see first hand the impact these unscrupulous fraudsters are having on often the most vulnerable in our communities and are working hard with other authorities to stop them.

"Scams Awareness Month is a great opportunity to put the spotlight on these opportunistic criminals and to engage with consumers so that they are empowered to protect themselves.”

Throughout the whole of May Citizens Advice Bureaux and Trading Standards across England and Wales will be reminding people that scams come in all shapes and sizes including adverts, people knocking on your door, emails, letters, phone calls, texts and over the internet.

CABs and Trading Standards Officers will be warning people to look out for key signs that something is a scam like being contacted out of the blue, requests for money in advance or telling you to keep it a secret and have released some new top tips on how to spot a scam and protect yourself from rogues.

What to do if you have been scammed

  • Report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to help stop it happening to others.
  • Often you can't get your money back if you've been scammed, especially if you've handed over cash.
  • If you've paid for goods or services by credit card you have more protection and if you used a debit card you may be able to ask your bank for a chargeback.
  • Get advice and report it to Trading Standards through the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06 (for advice in Welsh phone 08454 04 05 05) or online advice at www.adviceguide.org.uk

Signs of a scam

  • The call, letter, e-mail or text has come out of the blue.
  • You’ve never heard of the lottery or competition they are talking about .
  • You didn’t buy a ticket – so can’t win.
  • They are asking you to send money in advance.
  • They are saying you have to respond quickly, so you don’t get time to think about it or ask family and friends before you decide.
  • They are telling you to keep it a secret.
  • They seem to be offering you something for nothing.
  • If it seems too good to be true – it probably is.

How to protect yourself better

  • Never give out contact details like your name, phone number or address to strangers or to people who should have this information already.
  • Never give financial information or details of your identity, bank accounts or credit card to strangers or to businesses that should already hold your details.
  • Shred anything with your personal or bank details on – don’t just throw it away.
  • If in doubt, don’t reply. Bin it, delete it or hang up.
  • Persuasive sales patter? Just say: “No thank you.”
  • Resist pressure to make a decision straight away.
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know.
  • Walk away from job adverts that ask for money in advance.
  • Ask friends, neighbours or family about whether an offer is likely to be a scam.

Common scams

Lotteries — A phone call, text or email proclaims a huge lottery win – even though the receiver hasn’t bought a ticket. In order to collect winnings you are asked to send money to cover “processing” or “administration” costs.

Phishing — an email (or Vishing for phone calls) pretending to be from your bank asking for you to update, validate or confirm details which means that scammers can access your account.

SMShing - mobile phone text messages that lure you onto fraudulent websites or invite you to call a premium rate mobile number or download malicious content via the phone or web.

Electricity meter credit – people on pre-payment meters are offered cut-price electricity but end up paying for their energy twice.  Criminals use cloned keys to top up energy credit illegally.  You end up paying for the energy twice – first to the fraudsters and then to the company at the correct rate.

Pyramid selling — This is an illegal trick where you are told you can earn money by recruiting new members to a money-making venture. In reality only a tiny minority make money, everyone else loses.

Notes to editors

  1. Reports to the Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Citizens Advice consumer service between April 2012 and March 2013.
  2. Research from the Office of Fair Trading  http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/reports/consumer_protection/oft883.pdf
  3. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, 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 information in England and Wales see www.citizensadvice.org.uk
  4. 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. For online advice and information see www.adviceguide.org.uk
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.9 million problems from April 2011 to March 2012. For full 2011/2012 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Out of 22 national charities, the Citizens Advice service is ranked by the general public as being the most helpful, approachable, professional, informative, effective / cost effective, reputable and accountable (nfpSynergy’s Brand Attributes survey, May 2010).
  7. Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,500 service outlets across England and Wales.