By Max Clarke
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 (4%) 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, 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- 1,035 of approximately 3,500.
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.'
Beat the Scammers: Tips from the OFT
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 to report a scam, visit the Consumer Direct website.
You can report fraud to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or visiting www.actionfraud.org.uk.