Office of Fair Trading
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OFT launches 'Scamnesty' as new figures reveal scale of problem and rise of online scams

The OFT today launched its 2010 Scams Awareness Month by highlighting how scammers are targeting unsuspecting people using increasingly sophisticated and manipulative tactics.

New research for the OFT reveals the scale of mass-marketed scams in Britain, which arrive by post, email, text, phone or the internet and aim to mislead people to part with their cash. The survey found that:

  • Around one in 11 (just over 4 million) adults say they have responded to a scam at some time in their life, of whom nearly a third lost money.
  • One in 25 (about 2 million) adults have responded to a scam in the last 12 months.
  • Around half (49 per cent) of those scammed have lost more than £50 in total, with five per cent losing more than £5000.
  • Email is now the most common scam approach - 73 per cent of adults have received a scam email in the past year. This is followed by scams via a letter (21 per cent) and via text message (12 per cent). Social media sites appear to be emerging as a new route for scammers with nine per cent of adults having received an approach this way.
  • Three in 10 adults who responded to a scam then received further correspondence from the scammer, with over half (54 per cent) being asked to send money, and a third (36 per cent) being asked to send personal information.

This year's Scams Awareness Month is seeking to raise awareness of the scale of the problem with a nationwide 'Scamnesty' run in partnership with 129 local authority Trading Standards Services. The campaign calls on consumers to drop scam mailings they have received into designated 'Scamnesty' bins or boxes at local libraries and public areas across the country. Consumers looking for their nearest bin can do a postcode search at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/scamnesty. The site also features an online bin where people can send suspected scam websites and emails.

The campaign is also highlighting the damaging emotional impact that scams can have on victims.

John Fingleton, Chief Executive of the Office of Fair Trading said:

'Scammers are using ever more sophisticated and cunning tactics to dupe people out of their cash. We want people to recognise the warning signs, and feel confident enough to seek advice from friends and family or from Consumer Direct.'

Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan said:

'It is really important that people are on their guard and know that help is available as scams can bring real upset and misery to their victims.

'We have invested £7.5 million to create 'scambuster' teams across the country. These specialist Trading Standards teams are working hard with the Police and others across local authority boundaries to come down hard on the worst scammers. We are determined to take the fight to these crooks.'

Ron Gainsford, Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) said:

'TSI is delighted that this year so many local authorities have signed up to Scams Awareness Month. Local authority Trading Standards Services play a vital role in bringing scammers to task and protecting those preyed upon. It is vital that we remind the public that in amongst the post can be scam mails sent by not only unscrupulous criminals but people who are prepared to sell your details onto a wide international web of criminal activity. What can seem like an innocent announcement that you have won money can turn into a nightmare of unsolicited mail and financial ruin.'

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Victim Support, said:

'Scams can have a devastating impact on people's lives. Stigma or embarrassment can wrongly make victims think they are to blame, and discourage them from reporting these crimes or seeking help.'

To help protect yourself and those you care about, the OFT is encouraging people to remember the following tips:

  • Stop, think and be sceptical. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is.   
  • Do not be rushed into sending off money to someone you do not know, however plausible they might sound and even where an approach is personalised. 
  • Ask yourself how likely it is that you have been especially chosen for this offer - thousands of other people will probably have received the same offer.
  • Think about how much money you could lose from replying to a potential scam - it's not a gamble worth taking.
    " If you are unsure of an offer, speak to family or friends and seek advice from Consumer Direct before sending any money or giving out any banking or credit card details.

To find out more information, locate your nearest Scamnesty bin or report a suspect email or online scam, visit the Consumer Direct scams website at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/scamnesty.

NOTES

For more information or images of the Scamnesty bins, or case studies, please contact the team at 3 Monkeys Communications on OFT@3-monkeys.co.uk or call 020 7009 3100.

The Office of Fair Trading press office is available on 0207 211 8898.

1. 5,718 people were surveyed online by YouGov in January 2010.

2. 'Scamnesty' is an annual awareness campaign run by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for the month of February.  It aims to increase consumer awareness of mass market scams and provides consumers with helpful and practical advice on how to avoid being scammed. To find out more information, locate your nearest Scamnesty bin or seek advice about a possible scam, contact Consumer Direct via www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/scamnesty.

3. Consumer Direct is the OFT managed advice service offering information and advice on consumer issues. Consumer Direct is funded by the OFT and delivered in partnership with local authority Trading Standards Services. For information see www.consumerdirect.gov.uk.

4. Victims in England and Wales can get help from Victim Support in complete confidence on 0845 30 30 900. In Scotland, Victim Support is available on 0845 603 9213.

Public enquiries

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Media Enquiries

Kasia Reardon 020 7211 8901
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Frank Shepherd 020 7211 8133
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John Fearn 020 7211 8708
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Corinne Gladstone 020 7211 8899
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Jonathan Marciano 020 7211 8898
jonathan.marciano
@oft.gsi.gov.uk

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