Have You Been Scammed?
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Beware of Scammers - Have you been scammed?

On this page you'll find useful information about each of the scams with links to websites and organisations where you can get more advice and guidance.

Romance scams

Scammers target dating websites, singles columns and social networking sites to search for victims. They create fake profiles, usually by stealing other people’s identities from the internet e.g. a US soldier. Victims are often over 40 years old and divorced, widowed, elderly or disabled, but anyone can be at risk.

Romances develop very quickly and they declare their love after a matter of days. They desperately want to see the victim really soon. They use emotions to draw the victims in - often talking about trust and commitment and love instantly. Some scammers use poetry, flowers and other gifts to reel in their victims, the entire time declaring their “undying love”.

After trust is established, the scammer then suddenly has an urgent need for money. For example:

  • They’ve arranged to visit you but need money to pay travel costs, visa costs etc. Or they’ve paid for a plane ticket which is then stolen.
  • A family member or someone else they are responsible for is ill and they need money for medical treatment.

Once you send them money, the fraudsters will keep coming back with more reasons to send them money and often make their victims feel guilty.Serious Organised Crime Agency

SOCA (the Serious Organised Crime Agency) warns there has been a new development in romance scams where people from the UK are going over to Africa to meet someone they think they have fallen in love with, and then getting kidnapped.

Mass Marketing scams

These are letters through the post that imply you have won an enormous sum of money and that all you need to do to claim your prize is send off a fee or buy a gift. Variations include telling you that you’ve won the Spanish or Canadian lottery (even though you didn’t enter), or the letter will claim to be from a psychic with crucial information about your future, including how you could make your fortune. Again, they will be asking for a fee. If someone replies to one of these letters they’re likely to be bombarded with more and more of them. Elderly and vulnerable people can be more susceptible to scam mail.

Any mass marketing material that is misleading can be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority, and if you suspect something may be scam mail you can contact Consumer Direct for advice. Signing up to the mail and telephone preference service should stop you receiving junk mail and cold calls from legitimate marketing firms, but it won’t be able to stop scam mail sent out by fraudsters.

Share scams / Boiler Room fraud

Fraudsters cold-call investors to offer them shares that later turn out to be worthless, overpriced or even non-existent. Victims are often people who already have shares, and the conmen will have got their number from publicly available share lists. However, share scams are also sometimes advertised in newspapers, magazines or online.

Investors are often ‘groomed’ by the fraudsters over a long period of time. They’ll engage you in general conversation and make you feel like they’re your friend. It may be several calls before any investment opportunities are even mentioned. When they do tell you about the shares they want you to invest in, it will be described as a unique or once in a lifetime opportunity - a chance to make a huge return on your investment.

The FSA (Financial Services Authority) advise that people only deal with FSA registered firms, but it’s worth noting that fraudsters will sometimes pretend they’re from a legitimate company.

Online Ticket scams

Selling non existent tickets to festivals, concerts and sporting events is a very common scam. If people are desperate to attend a particular event they will often take higher risks than normal to get hold of the tickets. A common trick is to advertise tickets for sale in the paper, on a private sales website or via an online auction. The scam artists will often ask for payment by bank transfer, but could ask for a cheque or credit card details too. Either way the tickets won’t arrive or, when they do, they will be fake and you’ll be turned away at the door.

The scammers will also sometime masquerade as a legitimate ticket selling company, with a glossy looking website.

The best advice is to contact the venue or promoter of the event you want to attend and find out who the official ticket selling companies are.

Solar Panel scams

This is where scammers take advantage of people who want to do their bit for the environment and save themselves some money by installing solar panels. Similar scams offer insulation, but the principle is exactly the same. The company will advertise online and if you contact them they’ll come out to give you a quote. Chances are they’ll sign you up there and then for a substantial deposit. They’ll then turn up and appear to do enough work to warrant the rest of the payment. But chances are that after that you’ll never see or hear from them again. Sadly these scammers often target older people who are less likely to be able to climb up into a loft to check on their work.

The best advice is to only approach companies that are members of the REAL (Renewable Energy Assurance Limited) Assurance Scheme. You can also contact the Energy Saving Trust for independent advice and information.

Will Writing scams

Anyone can set up as a will writer and charge money for the service. There is no industry-wide regulation for will writers, and many have simply completed a few hours training before setting up as ‘experts’ in writing wills.

Solicitors draw up wills, but to do so they need to be properly qualified and regulated by the Law Society. Yet you don’t need to be a solicitor to be a will writer. Of course, the majority of will writers out there are perfectly legitimate - but sadly the lack of industry regulation means there are also a few rogues.

They may try to entice you in with the promise of a super cheap will. But when it comes down to it they will try and hard sell you a load of added extras which you don’t necessarily need, but which you can feel pressured into buying. They may then take your money and fail to provide you with either your will or the added extras you’ve paid for. Another trick is to write themselves into the will so they take a percentage of the estate on death, or to make themselves the executors of the will which means they’re in charge of paying beneficiaries, something they may decide not to do.

The Citizens Advice Bureau offers some advice on choosing the right solicitor, while The Law Society is campaigning for the will writing industry to be regulated.

Holiday and Timeshare scams

There are a variety of scams that target holiday makers. One is offering villas for rent that either don’t exist or aren’t owned by the person renting them out. You pay your money, but when you turn up you suddenly find you have nowhere to stay.

Another is currency scams, where you go to an unofficial bureau de change and they either use sleight of hand to give you the wrong amount of currency, or they give you a much cheaper currency that looks similar to the one you want e.g Polish Zloty, which look very similar to Czech Koruna.

But timeshare-related scams are a huge problem and most are targeted at people with a timeshare to sell. They may charge you a few hundred pounds to advertise your timeshare online or at a presentation. Then they may offer to buy your timeshare from you if you join their holiday club, which itself costs thousands. If you’ve been unlucky enough to fall for any of these scams, a firm of supposed lawyers may contact you telling you they can help you get your money back through the Spanish courts - but to do so they need an upfront fee, which can once again be several thousand pounds.

Unfortunately the value of timeshares has plummeted in recent years and they’re difficult to sell. The best advice is to be realistic about what your timeshare might be worth and don’t sign up to anything without doing plenty of research first.

Crash for Cash

Anyone who pays for car insurance is a victim of this scam, which involves causing staged car accidents so that fraudulent claims can be made. Typically the scammers will be driving along towards a roundabout and will suddenly slam on their brakes. The innocent motorist behind cannot stop in time and crashes into the back of the conmen. The innocent motorist is assumed to be at fault because they were behind, and then the conmen put in an overinflated claim for damage and personal injury.

If you’re involved in an accident like this, make a note of what happened, the number of occupants in the other car and their descriptions, and if possible take photos of the damage. If you suspect it may be fraud then report it either to the police or the Insurance Fraud Bureau.

Building scams

It’s estimated that rogue builders cost the British public £170 million every year. Some builders appear to be from legitimate building firms, others will just knock at your door. Tactics range from charging overinflated prices for shoddy work, to starting a building job and then asking for more money and refusing to carry on until it’s paid.

It can be difficult to know how to choose a good builder, but you should try and do the following:

  1. Ask friends, neighbours or family for recommendations.
  2. Get at least three quotes and make sure they all give a detailed breakdown of costs.
  3. Ask any builder to provide at least three separate references.
  4. Ask them to show you a contract and a copy of their public liability insurance.
HGV Training scams

There are lots of companies - known as brokers - who offer to provide a complete HGV training service. They say they will organise a provisional licence, arrange a medical, book a theory test and provide the practical training. Courses are normally around the £3000 mark, but unfortunately it seems there are some rogue brokers who are set up purely to scam people. They appear to be bona fide firms and will probably have a glossy looking website. They won’t necessarily ask for the full fee upfront - instead they’re more likely to ask for a couple of smaller instalments. In return they will start organising the lower cost elements of the training like the medical and theory test. This builds up trust in the victim, who is then happy to pay the rest of the fee. The company will then stop answering calls, or may disappear completely, and the costly practical training is never provided.

It’s worth looking into local training centres you can visit yourself to see what sort of facilities they provide. If you decide to use a broker then do plenty of background research on them and look for positive testimonials online.

Land Banking

Land Banking is a form of investment. The idea behind it is that you buy a plot of land relatively cheaply, and when planning permission is granted the value of the land will increase by a substantial margin. There are a number of companies who have bought up pieces of land and divided them into plots, which are then sold on to investors.

Scam Land Banking companies promise investors that the land is on the verge of getting planning permission and will rocket in value when it does. They’ll sell people plots for thousands of pounds and provide them with deeds. But the truth is that the land is in an area that is unlikely to ever receive planning permission, e.g. the green belt.

Thousands of investors have been drawn into these types of scams and often they will have been groomed over a long period of time. It’s not uncommon to hear tales of people who have lost six figure sums.

Anyone thinking of investing in land in this way should be very cautious and carry out extremely thorough checks. One key check is to contact the planning department for the plot of land in question and find out if planning permission is ever likely to be granted.

BT Phone scams

There are a number of scams in which people are contacted by a person claiming to work for BT or a company that is part of the BT group. A common scam aimed at private customers is to tell them that their account is in arrears and ask them to make a credit card payment there and then. Small businesses have been targeted by a company saying they are part of BT or BT Wholesale. They’ve then been duped into signing up to a new contract for phone services, which has ended up costing them thousands of pounds.

Employment scams

Employment scams prey on people who are desperate to work and earn some money. They offer what can often seem to be a very attractive sounding job, but unfortunately the job itself doesn’t exist.

The job on offer might be abroad, and once victims are offered it they are then asked to pay up front fees to arrange travel, visas, etc.

Another type of job might be to work at home transferring payments in and out of online accounts in return for a commission. This work is actually money laundering, but people who accept the jobs are often completely unaware of this and don’t realise they’re committing a serious crime.

There is plenty of useful advice online about spotting the warning signs of a potential employment scam.

Car Matching scams

Car matching scams work by targeting people who are selling their car. A company will contact them out of the blue and tell them that there’s a guaranteed buyer for their car. All they have to do is pay a one-off registration fee, which is usually just under £100. In reality, the majority of these companies do not have buyers lined up for the cars and people end up getting nothing for their money.

The authorities have cracked down on car matching scams in recent years and fortunately the practice seems to have largely been eradicated. However, you should still be very wary of any company that contacts you with the offer of a buyer in return for a fee.

Home Study or Distance Learning scams

The scam artists claim to offer further education courses that people can study at home in their own time. People pay substantial sums of money to enrol on these courses and then spend hours studying for qualifications that later turn out to be completely worthless.

There are plenty of legitimate home learning courses on offer - it’s just a case of making sure that the company offering them has a proven track record and that the qualifications you’ll receive are the ones you need.

If you think you've been scammed get in touch by contacting us and let us know exactly what has happened.

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