Bogus prize scamsScams cost a billion pounds a year

22 September 2005

British consumers are losing up to a billion pounds a year to mass-marketing fraudsters whose cons include falsely claiming you've won a prize - but must pay to get it.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has announced a crackdown on the problem. It's formed a 'scambusting' team of ten officials to take on the cheats whose cons include bogus prize draws and lotteries, premium-rate prize promotions, psychic mailings and misleading 'miracle' health cures.

In one recent case, 190,000 people called a premium-rate number after they received a misleading mailshot claiming they'd won a prize.

Christine Wade, Director of Consumer Regulation Enforcement at the OFT, said:'Scams are big business. The OFT's new team will target deceptive schemes that exploit consumer vulnerabilities to con people out of their money. Tackling scams is a priority for the OFT and we are determined to protect consumers and fair-dealing businesses.'

The OFT says the new team will continue to target the worst frauds and work with PO box operators, marketing distributors, accommodation address agencies and others to make it harder for cheats to operate.

Steer clear

Which? Senior Researcher Cassie Smith said:'While we welcome this move, a big part of the problem is that many scams come from abroad. Foreign companies often disregard the filtering systems such as the Mailing Preference Service where you can opt not to receive mailshots, and it's much harder to take enforcement action against these companies.

'Our advice is simple - if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. If a letter tells you you've won something, you shouldn't have to pay to receive it.'

If you think you may be a victim of a scam, contact the government's advice line Consumer Direct on 08454 040506.

It can tell you who to contact and what to do next. It also offers fact sheets on spotting spot scams and how to protect yourself from mass-marketing frauds.

If the promotion involves ringing a premium-rate number (those starting 09), you should contact the watchdog Icstis on 0800 500 212 which can give advice and investigate suspect cases.