Scams have hit five million peopleOver half the population targeted

05 January 2006

Five million people across the UK have been duped into responding to scams, Which? reveals today.

Our survey shows that a staggering 28 million people - more than half the British adult population - have at some point been singled out by con-artists trying to fleece them out of thousands of pounds.

One of the worst cases we came across involved an elderly grandmother who was conned out of more than GBP 40,000 over a three-year period.

We found Britain's most widespread scam is the automated phone call that invites people to claim a prize. A third of adults have received such a call and two million have responded, usually by calling a premium-rate number, which can cost up to GBP 1.50 a minute.

Almost eight million people in Britain say they have seen or received material promoting international lotteries.

Pay to 'release' winnings

These often involve fraudsters charging a 'contingency' fee, as in the case of one Which? reader who was asked to pay thousands of pounds to 'release' her winnings. The scamsters may also fraudulently use the bank account details they collect from 'winners' trying to claim prizes.

We found that adverts claiming you can 'make thousands without leaving the house' are also prevalent, with over a quarter of adults telling us they'd been targeted by these offers.

Although not all these ads are scams, Which? found that it can be hard to find out what the job entails and money is almost always requested up front for a joining pack.

Which? Editor Malcolm Coles said: 'The con artists who run these scams are experts in fooling people into parting with their money. Unfortunately, it's rare to get something for nothing - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

'Avoid giving them the information they need by checking thoroughly before confirming email addresses or giving bank account details to anybody you don't know.'