Thursday, 11 June 2009

Most common scams in UK

Rachel Robson gives the lowdown on ten of the UK’s most common swindles and rip-offs...

Over the years, scammers and fraudsters have come up with more and more inventive ways to swindle us out of our hard-earned cash.

And unfortunately, when times get tough, more of us become susceptible to these cunning schemes.

So I've decided it's time to give you the run-down on ten of the worst scams to watch out for so that you can avoid being ripped off!

1) Phishing emails
The trap: Emails which appear to have been sent from your bank and ask you to reset or confirm your security details by clicking on a link.

The reality: More often than not, these links take you to a fake website with the aim of getting hold of your personal or financial details to defraud you. So whatever you do, don't click on these links and delete the email immediately.

For more advice, visit the Bank Safe Online website.

2) Bogus holiday clubs
The trap: You're approached by a scratchcard tout or receive a phone call telling you you've won a 'free' holiday. All you need to do is to attend a presentation to collect your prize.

The reality: At the presentation, you'll be persuaded to sign up to an exclusive club and pay a fee for the privilege. But you'll probably find you've bought little more than access to an internet booking service offering the same service you could find in your local travel agent. Read Avoid this holiday rip-off for more advice.

3) Emails from 'friends in need'
The trap: You receive an email from a friend claiming he has lost his wallet and passport abroad and desperately needs money to pay for his hotel bill and his flight home.

Often your friend will tell you all phone lines have been disconnected and the only method of contact available is email. He'll then ask you to wire over some money to help him out, making out this will be repaid upon his return.

The reality: The email is not from your friend, but from a scammer who will happily run off with your hard-earned cash and perhaps even ask for more.

4) Lotteries
The trap: You receive a letter or email to say you've won a large sum of money in a lottery. Hurrah! But when you phone up to claim, you'll be told you need to pay a fee to collect your winnings.

The reality: Hand over the fee and you'll never see your money again - or your prize. It is illegal for a real lottery to charge any sort of fee so if you're told you need to pay, steer clear. And remember - if you haven't bought a ticket, how can you have won a prize?

5) Weight loss aids
The trap: Advertisements promising you'll be able to lose weight with minimal effort thanks to the wonders of a revolutionary pill, patch or cream.

The reality: Usually there's no scientific evidence to back up these claims, and you'll end up spending money on a bogus drug that will make absolutely no difference to your weight.

6) Advance fee fraud (the Nigerian or 419 scam)
The trap: You receive an email or letter from what appears to be businessmen or officials from Nigeria or another African country offering to transfer large sums of money into your bank account to get it out of the country. You're told you can keep a large chunk of this cash, but need to pay a fee to cover the transaction costs and legal fees.

The reality: These emails/letters are from conmen who will simply disappear with any money you give them. What's more, because you'll have to hand over your personal and bank details, you can expect these crooks to empty your bank account while they're at it.

7) Work at home schemes
The trap: You see an advert in the newspaper or on a lamppost offering you a significant income for minimal work - such as envelope stuffing or craft assembly work.

The reality: What you won't be told is that you might have to pay up front for supplies to carry out the job or to cover hidden costs. You may also find your 'employer' refuses to pay you, claiming your work isn't up the right standards, or that you only get commission for signing up more people. Read more in Don't get ripped off by this employment scam!

8) Car matching
The trap: After placing an advertisement for your car in the newspaper or online, you receive a call from someone promising to match you with a buyer. You're then asked to pay a fee for the match - often around £80-£99.

The reality: The call was from a fraudster, there's no buyer and you can kiss goodbye to your cash.

9) Mobile phone insurance
The trap: Not long after buying a new mobile phone, you receive a call from the shop you bought it from, and are offered a fantastic insurance deal.

The reality: After handing over your bank details you discover your mobile phone isn't insured after all and the person on the phone wasn't who he said he was. By which point, your bank account is looking decidedly less healthy. Read more about this in The big mobile phone insurance scam.

10) Pyramid schemes
The trap: You pay a fee to join a scheme but are offered the opportunity to make bags full of money fast by simply recruiting other people into the scheme.

The reality: These schemes are illegal and although the people at the top of the 'pyramid' might make money, it won't be much. And as soon as the pyramid stops growing, there's no money to be made.

There are many more rip-offs and swindles out there, but unfortunately I don't have room to list them all. But hopefully the above ten give you some idea of what to look out for.

For further tips and advice, you can read this guide from Consumer Direct. And if you come across any scams, you can report them via the Consumer Direct website.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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