Consumers ripped off by £6bn a year through scamsWhich? warns of the high cost of getting conned

14 July 2012

An example of a typical email requesting money

More than half of the £6.1 billion lost to fraudsters in 2011 was down to mass-marketing scams, affecting 10% of consumers.  

A Which? investigation has found that one-in-ten people have fallen prey to scams in the past five years, with mass-marketing fraud forming the majority of cases. Tactics range from unsolicited correspondence or cold calls about dodgy investment deals, non-existent electrical goods, fake lotteries, competitions and even extortion. 

Scammers masquerade as legitimate organisations

Several organisations have been spoofed, including the Ministry of Justice, Action Fraud, HMRC and leading banks, with organised criminal gangs latching onto high profile news stories, including the NatWest IT meltdown, PPI claims and tax rebates

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is aware of crooks using their details when they contact consumers who might have been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) or overcharged by their bank. The crooks promise to reclaim the money for a fee, which is often only explained once they have 'hooked' a potential victim. 

The MoJ stresses that it would never sent correspondence to consumers promising to resolve their financial disputes in this way.

Beware the cost of responding to a scam

When a Which? researcher responded to an email telling him he'd won $540,000 in a US lottery, without purchasing a ticket, he was asked to provide his bank details in order to receive the prize. Similarly, an organisation calling itself the ‘International Monetary Fund’ promised an $8m windfall, providing the recipient paid £960 for the funds to be released.

Almost 30% of Which? members surveyed, who admitted to falling for scams, said they had been scuppered by schemes claiming their bank accounts or computers had been compromised. 

Unsolicited calls requesting fees to fix spurious computer error reports are common, as are scams from fraudsters masquerading as fraud prevention services claiming that money stolen from a customer’s account can be reclaimed for a fee.

Scams: too good to be true

Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?, said: 'Some scams can be very sophisticated and tricky to spot, but if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Your personal and financial details are precious so if in doubt, double-check who you’re dealing with before giving anything away.'

Sucker lists

Criminal syndicates often start by generating email lists, often compromising up to 10 million names. Only a few responses are needed for the fraudsters to succeed. 

'Sucker lists' are then compiled from the details of people who’ve responded to scams in the past and are therefore considered easy targets. The best way to avoid getting on these lists is by not responding to unsolicited emails or calls.

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