During Scams Awareness Month, Surrey trading standards is highlighting the top four most common scams in the county and the ways residents can protect themselves.
Scams Awareness Month is a national campaign throughout June aimed at ensuring people “don’t miss a trick” when it comes to scams.
- Doorstep scams
The most common scam reported in Surrey begins with an unexpected knock at the door. Although cold-calling to sell goods or services isn’t illegal, our advice is never to do business on the doorstep. Examples of scams include fraudsters getting their foot in the door by offering to do simple jobs but then demanding extortionate amounts of money for non-existent or unnecessary work, or posing as an official to win your trust. Scammers often use high-pressure sales tactics. Some unscrupulous cold-callers may attempt to trick their way into your home to steal cash and valuables.
If confronted by a stranger on the doorstep don’t feel pressured into making a quick decision there and then. Always say “No thank you – please leave” and then immediately close the door. If the trader won’t go away, tell them that you will call trading standards. If you feel under real threat or in danger, you should contact the police on 101 or if it is an emergency dial 999.
A rogue trader who cold-called an elderly resident in Shamley Green, near Guildford claimed her roof and gutters needed extensive work and tried to charge her £23,000 despite botching the repairs. A trader who is part of the Surrey trading standards approved scheme put the work right for £400 (pictured below).
2. Mail scams
These cover a variety of different scams, from sinister and threatening demands for money from psychics and clairvoyants to companies selling products with miraculous and unrealistic claims. The most prevalent in Surrey is the lottery or prize draw scam, where the recipient is deceived into believing that they’ve won money or a high value prize. The catch is that this windfall can only be released once the winner has forwarded the company a small “administration fee” or called a premium rate number. If you respond you may be asked for further payments and added to a mailing list. Your personal details may be shared with other scammers who in turn will start to bombard you with unsolicited mail.
If you receive a scam letter, such as winning a lottery you never entered, ignore it and throw it away. It is possible to reduce the number of scam letters you receive by registering free of charge with the Mailing Preference Service here.
A retired lecturer from Guildford spent at least £10,000 responding to scam mail and phone calls and was spending more than £100-a-week when trading standards were alerted. He was paying advance fees of between £20 to £40 each time and after his first few responses, was bombarded with huge volumes of scam mail (pictured below).
3. Telephone scams
These involve unsolicited phone calls from scammers masquerading as officials, such as a bank, insurance company or government agency. They call either land lines or mobile phones with the aim of tricking people into divulging personal information such as bank details, which in turn is used to steal their money. It’s sometimes called “vishing” (voice phishing). Common telephone scams include investments in non-existent precious commodities and pension scams offering unsolicited pension advice.
If you receive an unsolicited telephone call from a person asking for money or bank details hang up. Legitimate organisations will not ask you to provide such information over the phone. It’s possible to reduce the number of unsolicited telephone calls you receive by registering free of charge with the Telephone Preference Service here. Call blocking devices such as trueCall will block nuisance and unwanted calls. Trading standards uses these machines to help people inundated with cold-call scams. Find out more about phone scams and trueCall here.
A Woking man parted with several thousand pounds after a phone scammer led him to believe he would receive a windfall if he first made payments using iTunes vouchers. He went out and bought vouchers which the scammers were able to convert into money. He has since had a trueCall blocker installed through trading standards to stop scam calls getting through to him.
- Cyber scams
Cyber scams involving the internet or email come in a wide variety of forms including fake social media profiles and “phishing” emails aimed at harvesting personal information. One of the most distressing is the romance scam, where a criminal using a fake profile on a social media or dating platform establishes a relationship with a person to beguile them of money. This type of scam can have a particularly detrimental effect on people who may already be socially isolated.
Do not send money or bank details to strangers over the internet and if arranging to meet, use a public place and ensure you leave details with someone you trust as to what you are doing. Be wary of giving too much information too quickly. Red flags for romance scams include scammers being vague about themselves, trying to make conversations personal very quickly, asking you to keep the relationship secret from family and friends and building an emotional story requiring a financial resolution such as needing money for a plane ticket, or support for a sick relative.
A woman from west Surrey who is hard of hearing fell seriously into debt after being targeted online by romance scammers. The woman relies on email and the internet and was cruelly scammed into handing over a large amount of money on several occasions to a man she believed was in love with her and unable to travel to England without her financial backing. Trading standards works with local charities, including those supporting deaf people, to deliver tailored information about guidance about avoiding scams.
Find out more about scams and how to prevent them, including details of trueCall devices and free scam reminder stickers for phone handsets, cheque books and computer monitors, on the Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards website.
You should report a scam to more than organisation – contact Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards (via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline) on 03454 04 05 06 and also Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or http://www.actionfraud.police.uk. Click here for full details of what to do.
Friends Against Scams offers short online courses here to help people protect themselves and others against scams.
To keep up to-to-date on the latest scams affecting the county please subscribe to trading standards’ weekly newsletter here.