Whether it’s pulling the plug on computer fraud, binning scam mail or slamming the door on rogue traders, Poole Trading Standards are rounding National Scam Awareness Month off with a raft of advice on how to avoid common pitfalls presented by scammers.
Themed around the simple message “Don’t be rushed, Don’t be hushed”, July’s national campaign was aimed at both encouraging victims of scams to come forward and report it, as well as reminding residents to take their time and consider ‘offers’ presented by potential scammers before handing over money or personal information.
Around £10 billion is lost by UK victims of phone and scam mail every year. Bogus overseas lotteries, catalogue scams and other special offers for vastly overpriced products that never materialise are just some of the ways in which more than three million people are tricked out of hundreds, often thousands of pounds.
James Norman, Regulatory Team Manager, Borough of Poole, said: “Sadly, although alarming, losses of a large scale are not uncommon and the cycle of responding to these scammers can be difficult for some people to break.
“We are aware of 300 Poole residents whose details have appeared on lists of repeat victims who have responded to scams in the past that are then shared by fraudsters, meaning some victims are sent dozens, even hundreds of scam mail a day. Most scam mail originates abroad and it is therefore difficult to tackle. We are doing all we can to catch UK based scammers, contacting people on these lists to offer advice and support and raise awareness in the community.”
Approximately 30 per cent of overall scams in the UK are carried out via the internet or email and it can be difficult to spot the difference between genuine websites or emails and the fake ones designed to identically replicate our own banks, for example, to trick us into giving out passwords.
A popular scam recently reported in Poole involves cold callers impersonating the householder’s internet provider or Microsoft, convincing the resident their computer has a virus with a fake web page before persuading them to log on, follow their instructions to download software that then gives the scammer remote access to private information, or request payment to remove the non-existent virus.
Another growing online threat is known as a ‘subscription trap’ whereby a website offer ‘free trials’ for food, beauty or health products. Victims sign up and make a small payment for postage and packaging unaware they have agreed to hidden terms and conditions allowing the traders to take out a monthly payment over the value of the products sent.
Poole Trading Standards have been working hard to put rogue traders out of business with a number of successful prosecutions locally. Recently, rogue traders have been found to cold call at an address offering often unnecessary and poor quality work to the residents which they are then overcharged for. It is not unusual for doorstep fraudsters to start work to a driveway, property or garden as soon as the victim shows an interest making it very difficult for them to back out, even though they usually have a legal right to do so.
Cllr John Rampton, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Consumer Protection, Borough of Poole, said: “No one should feel ashamed of being scammed or suffer in silence, but with just an estimated five per cent of all scams reported, the council is very keen to support this year’s campaign to encourage more people to come forward. Scams are very sophisticated and fraudsters themselves very convincing, but often exploit the lack of technical knowledge, or vulnerability of the victim.
“We can all help combat scammers by taking a few moments to talk to friends, neighbours and relatives, especially those that may be vulnerable, about the whole problem of scams whether it is online, by mail, telephone or on their doorstep. Encourage them to not be rushed into making any decisions on the spot, researching any too good to be true offer and checking up on tradespeople before allowing work to be undertaken at their home. There is lots of support and advice available, and we would urge you or someone you know who has been a victim of a scam to contact Trading Standards or the Citizens Advice Bureau.”
Poole Trading Standards recommend following their top tips to avoid scams:
- You should not have to pay to get a prize you have ‘won’ – if you haven’t bought a ticket or entered a draw then you can’t win it!
- If in any doubt, don’t reply to scam mail, delete unwanted emails, hang up on suspicious callers, and say a firm “no thanks” to cold calling doorstep traders.
- If researching a business or tradesperson online, be aware that scammers can write reviews too.
- For tradespeople and businesses that have already been vetted by Trading Standards officers, check buywithconfidence.gov.uk.
- Seek at least three quotes from different tradespeople or businesses before agreeing to work being undertaken at or around your home.
- Don’t send money for anything you don’t need or want just because you have been promised a prize if you do.
- Look for sites with a secure link if making a payments – check the web address begins with https:// (the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’) and that there is a padlock symbol in the browser but NOT on the page itself as this may be bogus.
- Don’t get caught out by copycat websites that mimic official sites and charge users for renewing passports, driving licences, European Health Insurance Cards, etc.
- Read the small print – make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
- If you are contacted out of the blue with a too-good-to-be-true offer, product or investment opportunity, be very suspicious and discuss it with someone you trust before agreeing to anything.
- Never send money to someone you have never met, especially people you have built a relationship up with online.
- Use door notices/stickers to deter unwanted cold callers stating you will not deal with uninvited sellers.
- Check who is knocking at your door using a window, use a door chain where possible or don’t answer if you are unsure.
- Report any suspicious activity (calls, mail, visitors, etc.) to Trading Standards or the police for unwanted doorstep callers.
- Above all, “Don’ be rushed, Don’t be hushed” – take time to think first and speak out about scams.
Poole Trading Standards can be contacted on 01202 261700 or you can report it online at poole.gov.uk/reportit.
Find your nearest Citizen’s Advice Bureau at citizensadvice.org.uk or call 03454 040506.
Think you can’t be fooled? Test how scam aware you are at citizensadvice.org.uk/sam15 and click on ‘scam game’.