Office of Fair Trading
Printable version E-mail this to a friend

Money transfer scams revealed as leading consumer con as OFT launches nationwide ‘Scamnesty’

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) today launched its 2011 Scams Awareness Month, as new figures reveal the UK's top scams.

With the support of consumer champion Esther Rantzen, the OFT is calling on people to bin scam mailings in 'Scamnesty' bins located around the country.

New research commissioned by the OFT shows that 39 per cent of people who lost money to a scam in the past 12 months were victim of a money transfer or advance fee scam. These dupe people into handing over their bank details or paying an up-front fee by leading them to believe they are entitled to an inheritance, donating to charity or even helping release funds from a corrupt country.

The research reveals the scale of the problem with mass-marketed scams in Britain, which arrive by post, email, text, phone or the internet and aim to con people into parting with their cash. The survey also found that:

  • Nearly one in every twenty people (four per cent) lost money to a scam last year alone.
  • Amongst these, the realistic nature of scams was the top reason for falling for them. When presented with a list of options (see point four in notes), 61 per cent said they think scams looking real made them get involved with them.
  • Of those who reported being scammed in the last 12 months, seven per cent lost more than £4,000.
  • 39 per cent of respondents who had been scammed in the last 12 months said they did not report it to the authorities.

The extent of the problem with money transfer and advance fee scams is also exposed by the latest Consumer Direct figures, which show more complaints about these scams than any others (see notes).

Esther Rantzen, who herself has spent over 40 years exposing scammers and con-men, said:

'Scams can have a devastating impact on people's lives. The conmen often deliberately target older people or people who are especially vulnerable. Stigma or embarrassment can wrongly make victims think they are to blame, and discourage them from reporting these crimes or seeking help. No-one should feel like this. I want people to feel able to speak to their friends, family and neighbours so that we can put these con-artists out of business.

'I also want to help raise awareness through this OFT campaign of the tricks and methods that scammers use on unsuspecting and often vulnerable people. I urge people to outwit the scammers and simply bin any scams they receive.'

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 86 local authority Trading Standards Services (TSS). 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 can see if their TSS is participating at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/scamnesty.

Michele Shambrook, Operations Manager for the OFT-managed advice service Consumer Direct, 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.'

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 or report a scam, visit the Consumer Direct website at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/scamnesty.

You can report fraud to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.org.uk.

NOTES

1. The new research was conducted by GfK on behalf of the OFT in its omnibus survey of 1000 people, conducted in January 2011.

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

3. On 25 January 2011, the Metropolitan Police Service's Economic and Specialist Crime Unit (Operation Sterling) announced that it had taken possession of a bulk delivery of scam mail intended for vulnerable victims across the UK and searched and closed five virtual offices used by the scammers. See the MPS news story Met police seizing scam mail aimed at UK victims.

4. Below is the most recent list of top scam complaints to Consumer Direct, the OFT managed consumer advice service.
 
Complaints to Consumer Direct 1 October 2009 to 30 September 2010

 Type of Scam  Complaints
 Advance fee and money transfer  1035
 Prize draws and sweepstakes  867
 Ticketing  606
 Foreign lotteries  509
 Career opportunities  488
 Miracle health and slimming  300
 Working from home  281
 Pay in advance credit  263
 Investment opportunities including property and land  261



 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 

Due to the evolving nature of scams the descriptions and categories have changed for the previous reporting period.

Complaints to Consumer Direct 1 October 2008 to 30 September 2009

 Type of Scam  Complaints
 Prize draws and sweepstake  1113
 Foreign lotteries  545
 African advance fee and foreign money  439
 Career opportunities  366
 Home working and business opportunities  340
 Miracle health and slimming  288
 Investment opportunities including property and land  202
 Online dating  139
 Bogus holiday clubs  132



 
  
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 

5. Respondents were provided with the following options when asked 'Why do you think you fell for the scam?':

  • it looked real when I received it
  • it seemed to be something for very little
  • the scammers were persuasive when I contacted them
  • I felt intimidated by the scammers
  • I was harassed by the scammers
  • none of these

6. 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