Scams, Rogue Traders and Doorstep Crime
Listed below are examples of some of the most common scams currently operating. However this should not be considered to be an all-inclusive list of scams, as fraudsters are constantly attempting to come up with new ways to trick you into parting with your money. Many of these new cons are variations on the existing scams listed below.
Boiler Room Scam
You are contacted out of the blue by a trader who claims to have a highly profitable offer for you. They are very persistent in calling you, explaining how much money you are likely to make and trying to get you to pay thousands of pounds for shares or other high value investments, such as diamonds, metals, carbon credits or expensive wine. If you agree to send them your money you find that the investments do not in fact exist or are worthless. Be especially careful as this scam is often more professional than many of the others on this list, due to the large sums of money they get from victims, many of whom spend in the region of £10000-£100000 or higher. As such they may be able to show you glossy websites and brochures to help convince you that they are a genuine company. If you feel you may have fallen victim to such a scam, then please contact the police via Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Burglar Alarm Scams
You are cold called by a firm saying they are doing a survey about crime and offering a free burglar alarm. If you agree to this, the firm comes round and fits the burglar alarm. Only then do they reveal that for the alarm to be of any use you have to pay an expensive monitoring charge every month. They will also charge you for installation. Other tactics reported include claiming to be approved by the police, claiming that the burglar alarm is a ‘prize’, exaggerating the threat of burglary if no alarm is purchased, claiming police will not answer 999 calls unless you purchase from them and persistence even when the consumer says they are not interested.
Carpet Cleaning Scams
You receive a cold call offering to clean your carpets for a cheap price. However if you invite the trader around, as soon as they have got into your property they immediately say that the cheap price was for their basic clean and that what you really need is a deep clean. They then try to hard-sell a deep clean for often ten times the original quoted price. It becomes fairly clear that they have little intention of providing the basic clean; it was just an excuse to get into your house and subject you to their aggressive hard selling tactics. Remember that if a trader is in your house you have the right to ask them to leave, if they don’t immediately do so they are committing an offence.
Catalogue Cash Prize Scams
You receive a catalogue offering various goods. The catalogue contains statements suggesting that you have won a large cash prize and thus inducing you to order goods. If you place an order the trader sends the goods you have ordered and several further prize offers but no cash prize is ever sent. Trading Standards advise consumers to carefully consider any purchase from catalogues that offer these ‘prizes’.
Cash Prize Letters & Lottery Scams
You receive a letter, e-mail, phone call or text that states that you have won a cash prize. Sometimes the letter will state you have won a lottery, such as Euromillions or the Spanish Lottery. If you contact the sender they will eventually request that a smaller fee be paid in order to claim it. If you pay the money no prize is forthcoming. Alternatively you will be sent a seemingly legitimate cheque for part of your prize after you make your ‘claim’, which initially seems to be accepted by the bank. You are asked to immediately send a ‘fee’ to whoever sent the cheque, on the promise they will then send more of your prize. However the cheque won’t clear and you will lose the ‘fee’ you paid.
The letter or e-mail sometimes uses deceptive wording to imply you have won without ever specifically stating that you have. However, even when there is no ‘get out’ clause in the small print, none of these letters ever pay out any cash prizes. If you do send money to one, your name may be sold on to other fraudsters and you will find yourself bombarded with letters of a similar ilk.
Claims Management Firms
You are rung by a firm claiming that they will be able to obtain compensation for you. Common reasons given include compensation claims for personal injuries, mis-selling of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) or tax refunds. The trader may falsely claim to be a government department or endorsed by the government. If you agree to this they ask for your bank details. They may claim that this is for an upfront payment, although some may claim they only need these details to put the compensation into your account. Either way a payment will be taken.
What happens next varies. Some of these firms do actually do the work, although there is a question as to whether you could have got a better deal if you shopped around. Others will obtain the compensation but not pass it on. In many cases the trader does little or no work to obtain the compensation, often once the upfront fee is taken the consumer never hears from the firm again.
Remember that you do not need to use a claims management firm at all. It is often cheaper or simpler to take the dispute up with your bank yourself.
Clothing Collection Scams
A flyer is posted through your door asking for any spare clothes you wish to donate. They claim that donating this will benefit the people of the Third World or Eastern Europe. In fact the clothes will be sold for profit. Always check to make sure that the company you are donating to is genuine. You can look up registered charities by visiting the Charity Commission website.
Computer Support Scams
You are phoned by somebody who claims that there is a possible problem with your computer. They may claim to be from Microsoft or some similar company. The trader asks if your computer is slow and if you reply that it is, they explain that this is a symptom of a virus. You are asked for access to your computer and for a fee to remedy the problems.
In reality, if somebody is cold calling you there is no way for them to know over the phone whether there is a problem with your computer or not. Even if at the time of calling there happened to be something wrong with your computer, nothing the trader does will improve performance. As well as losing the fee to fix the fictitious problem, if you give the trader access to your computer they may use this opportunity to delete vital files or upload viruses to your computer, which they will then offer to fix for further payments.
Evidence suggests that most or all of these calls originate from India, although the trader may use diverted telephone numbers to give the impression of calling from within the UK.
You receive a phone call from someone saying they’re from the police or your bank, warning you that fraudulent activity has been detected of your account or that your debit/credit card is about the expire. To make it seems genuine, the caller tells you to phone them back. However when you hang up, they don’t, so that when you redial, you’re actually just reconnected to the con artist. They will then ask you to tap your PIN number into the handset to authorise/cancel your card and tell you a courier or taxi driver will arrive shortly to pick your card up. Once you hand the card over, the scammers use it to spend all your cash.
Neither the police nor banks would ever send someone round to collect your card, nor would they ask the consumer to authorise something by tapping their PIN number into a handset. If someone does phone you saying there is suspicious activity on your account, phone them back from a different phone line or wait at least 10 minutes to ensure any potential con artists have cleared the line.
Credit Broker Scams
You find a website or advert offering to find loans. The trader offers you a loan that they may claim is guaranteed, even though you may have a poor credit rating. You are told that as long as you pay an upfront fee the loan will be put into your account within days. After the fee is paid no money is forthcoming. Alternatively, they may not make it clear that there will be any payment at all, however at some stage you will be asked for bank details and a payment will leave your account.
The company may then ring you back asking for further fees, getting higher and higher until you realise you are being scammed, or alternatively you will find numerous companies are taking money from your account, which seem to be related to loans, even though you haven’t authorised any payments, this will be because the company will have provided your bank details to multiple other “brokers”. Many but not all of these loan scams are based abroad, although some of the foreign based loan scams use UK drop addresses. Be particularly wary of requests for payment by money transfer or Ukash vouchers, as these are favoured methods of payment by scammers.
If questioned the companies will deny any promises made of guaranteed loans and state they are merely brokers and have 6 months to find you a loan.
Debt Cancellation Scams
You are contacted by a trader who claims that they can cancel your debts for you. As well as cold calling by telephone, these traders are known to go door to door on housing estates where they believe it is likely the residents will be in debt. They ask for an upfront fee for every debt they offer to ‘get rid’ of. The traders claim that they can find problems with how the credit agreements were set up, which will render them unenforceable.
In some cases the claims the trader has made are false or exaggerated and there is no way to get out of the agreement, in other cases the trader cannot be found once the upfront fee has been paid. Even if the debt is found to be unenforceable, all this means is that the trader cannot force you to pay unless they have a court order. Please bear in mind that this is not the same as the debt being cancelled, as it is still likely to adversely affect your credit rating and you may still be contacted by debt collectors in relation to it. If you require advice about a debt that you are currently experiencing difficulty with, you can visit the Money Advice Service for advice.
Foreign Money Laundering
These come in the form of e-mails or letters and invite you to give your bank details in order for the writer to ‘transfer’ money into this country. In return for this you are offered a percentage of the millions that will be passing through your account. A high percentage of these mailings claim to be from residents of African Countries. The fraudsters, once they decide they have your trust (which they may work on for months), will begin to ask for more and more money to help ease the transfer.
If you have fallen victim to one of these scams then please report this to the police via Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. If you have received one of these e-mails but have not lost money, the best place to forward it is the abuse section of your internet service provider.
Free Trial Websites
You find an advert online offering a free trial of some product or service. You are asked for your bank details when you sign up. Some time later you find that the trader has taken regular payments from your bank account. When you query why, the trader explains that hidden in their terms & conditions was a warning that if you did not follow a complicated cancellation procedure you were agreeing to them taking these payments.
Goods commonly offered include dieting supplements, health products, cosmetics etc. In addition to the money you are likely to lose, there is also the issue that you may be risking your health by consuming an unknown, possibly un-tested product provided to you by a rogue trader over the internet. Always ask yourself why, if an offer is supposedly free, they need to know all your bank details.
‘Green Deal’ Scams
You are phoned by and/or visited by a company who offer to do an assessment for the government’s Green Deal scheme, often saying they can secure you thousands of pounds for energy saving upgrades for your home. They then ask for an upfront free, but if you pay it the assessment is never completed. This con often works because it’s so similar to what a real Green Deal assessment company might offer you. This means you should be wary of all such approaches until you are confident about the company. Assessment companies must also be officially registered, so ask for their registration number and check it on this website to see if the company is really allowed to offer Green Deal assessments. Then contact them on their publicly available number.
Horse Racing Scams
You are contacted by a trader who claims to have a risk free scheme to help you bet on horses. You pay money to them and they will either bet it on horses on your behalf or provide you tips as to which horses you need to bet on. Various figures are given to show that this will minimise your risk while maximising your profits. You are encouraged to pay them several large sums of money. You never receive any payouts for any bets you make and the company refuses to return your money.
You find an advert offering a job. On contacting the trader he offers you the job immediately but tells you that you need to pay an upfront fee. He assures you that once this fee is paid, work will start coming your way. Once you have handed over your cash, the trader never contacts you again and no work is provided. Trading Standards advise that you never to pay an upfront fee for the promise of a job. For advice on getting a job you can contact JobCentre Plus.
Miracle Cure & Weight Loss Scams
You receive unsolicited mail claiming to be able to cure some hitherto incurable disease or ailment. Alternatively it will claim to help you lose weight without going on a diet or doing any exercise (or at the very least that it will massively increase the weight loss during a diet). The mailing may well give quotes from various customers and ‘doctors’ claiming that the product works. Trading Standards advise that if a medical claim sounds too good to be true it probably is. Always consult a health care professional before parting with any money for treatments.
Mobile Phone Scams
You are cold called over the phone by someone who implies they are your telephone service provider. In actual fact this is a sales company. They ask whether you would like an upgrade to your contract. They may quote various figures to show you will be better off if you do. If you agree to this you then find that you have been switched to a different telephone service provider and tied into a new contract.
The claims made over the phone as to the costs and advantages of this contract often turn out to be either exaggerated or false. Sometimes they do this even if you do not agree, so it is important to remember not to give a cold caller any details that might help them. If you are considering buying a mobile phone contract, please have a look at our consumer resources and check the Buyer’s Guide.
Non Existent Goods Scams
You are looking for bargains and find some goods for sale, often a high value item such as a car. You purchase the goods without first seeing them, payment is by bank transfer or some other method where you cannot get the money back if things go wrong. The goods are never delivered and the address you have been given by the seller turns out to be false. Traders who carry out this scam often give out the contact details of an innocent legitimate business. The victims believe they are dealing with the innocent business the trader is masquerading as. Scammers often copy adverts placed online by legitimate car sellers and rarely if ever actually own the goods they are purporting to sell. Trading Standards suggests that if making a large purchase online that you make payment by credit card so that money can be retrieved if something goes wrong. Also if purchasing a car it is always a good idea to view the car at the traders premises before buying. If buying via online auction always be suspicious if the seller asks for payment that is not by the auctions recommended payment service.
Payment Interception Scam
You have recently had someone do some work for you. They contact you by email and ask for payment giving details of their bank account. You pay them. Some time afterwards you are contacted by the trader who is wondering why they have not been paid. This scam works by a criminal intercepting the email and altering the bank details to be their own. You can protect yourself can include making payments by credit card or another method which is retrievable rather than by bank transfer which is not. Also check that the email address that you have received the invoice from is the same as the one the trader usually uses.
Satellite TV Insurance Scams
You are cold called over the phone by someone who implies they are your Satellite TV Company. They then attempt to sell you insurance. The insurance is often expensive and unnecessary. It later turns out that they were totally unconnected to the company they were implying they were, who may well have been able to provide you the same insurance at a fraction of the cost. As you do not know the true identity of the company you have bought the insurance from, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to put in a claim.
Money Making Schemes
You are sent a letter stating that the sender has discovered a marvellous way of making lots of money, a scheme they will tell you about for a small fee. If you send the money you get a letter telling you to send out adverts of the type you initially received or something equally worthless.
Official Looking Websites
You are looking to obtain a license, passport or document from the government. You search on the internet and find a website that looks official. You pay a fee to the website. Only afterwards do you find the website is not really a government website and that all they do for their inflated fee is fill out the form on the actual website (which of course, you could have done yourself). We have had complaints about websites selling driving licenses, fishing licenses, passport applications, European health cards, etc.. Remember that a real government website will end with .gov.uk, and these addresses are not available to non-government affiliated organisations. Do not simply pick the top result on a web search because private companies can pay to have their websites listed at the top of the page.
One Day Sales
These are sales that attempt to get people to buy without considering their purchases. The next day, if there are any problems, the company will have vanished without a trace. They typically entice people with the promise of bargains, holding mock auctions where fake bidders get the cheap goods. However, once the genuine customers are convinced to start bidding for items, poor quality goods are then passed on for inflated prices. They are typically held in hotels. The hotel owner ends up facing the wrath of the disappointed customers and the trader is long gone.
The products the customer ends up with may not even be the one they thought they were bidding for, with the customer not finding out what they have purchased until they have opened the packaging, by which time the trader may have already escaped. Some people even end up finding they have bid for empty boxes or boxes full of bricks. Find out more in this leaflet.
Online Counterfeit Goods
You search on the internet for an item you are interested in buying. You find a website selling the item for less than the normal price. Once you have paid, the goods are either not delivered or when they arrive they turn out to be counterfeits. Some victims claim they felt the website was trustworthy because it had the word UK in its name or had a .co.uk web address. In reality most of these websites are registered outside the EU, with the consequent difficulty in getting your money back. A .co.uk web address can be purchased by traders in any country. The website www.brand-i.org will help you find genuine retailers of brand name products. You can find out more about counterfeit goods on this page.
You receive an email or phonecall purporting to be from a well known business or organisation, asking you to confirm your account details or directing you to an official looking website for you to enter your details. If you give details these could be used by the scammers to drain money from your account. They may state that there is a problem with your account, that they have a refund to give you or any one of a number of reasons why you should give them your bank details.
These scams are known as phishing, because the e-mails and calls are sent out to hundreds of people in the hope that one will think it is the real organisation and bite.
Genuine companies do not contact people in this way. The scammers have been known to pretend to be banks, government or local government bodies and companies such as eBay or Microsoft.
Predictions For The Future
A ‘psychic’ writes to you, giving vague predictions for the future and suggesting that someone is going to cause you harm or that bad luck is about to befall you. The letter then asks that you send a sum of money to the ‘psychic’ in order that you can be protected from this harm.
Prize Offer Letters
You are told by letter that you are guaranteed one of a list of prizes. You are asked to call a premium rate number or send off a sum of money in order to receive it.
With many of these schemes, on first reading it appears that you have won the main prize, but when you go on to read the small print you will actually only have been entered into a prize draw.
Pay careful attention to the list of possible prizes and the quantities of each prize. One of the prizes is worth substantially less than the others, and usually you will find the one you are most likely to receive is of the least actual value. For any of these offers to be profitable, the most common prize will be worth significantly less than the cost of the call or the fee that you are being asked to send.
In some cases the prize comes in the form of a voucher where you will have to pay even more money to redeem it, or for a product/service it’s impossible to actually get due to limited availabilty.
Property Investment Scams
You are contacted by a person who explains that he wishes to offer you the opportunity to invest in some property. He shows you several sites and explains that as soon as planning permission is granted they will be used for the building of major property developments. He asks you to invest many thousands of pounds now, with the prospect of getting huge profits once the developments have been built. He may take several months trying to convince you to invest this money.
Once the money is paid however, he ceases contact unless he thinks there is a way to get further money out of you. The land is found to have little or no chance of planning permission being granted and the trader vanishes with your money. Because of the large amounts of money that can be gained in this scam, the trader may put considerable effort into convincing you of his legitimacy, such as meeting you, allowing you to visit offices (which will be deserted once you realise there is a problem) and creating official looking websites and documents for himself. If you have been a victim of this scam then please contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.
Pyramid schemes, which rely on each investor recruiting more investors underneath them, are notorious for their ability to rip families, friends and even whole communities apart. They are mathematically certain to collapse, leaving most people out of pocket. They are also highly illegal, but can sometimes be difficult to spot. Please read this page to find out more about pyramid schemes and how to avoid them.
Someone Has Died Abroad
You receive an unsolicited e-mail from abroad. This claims that someone with the same surname as you has died and that as they have no other living relatives you are entitled to their large estate. If you do get in touch to try and claim this money, you will be strung along for cash and bank account details in much the same way as if you had responded to the African money laundering scam.
Tarmac Gangs & Other Door-to-Door Workmen
Someone knocks on your door claiming to be working in the area and that they have some tarmac with which they can do your drive at a cut price rate. They often state that they have been doing work for the council and have the tarmac left over. The work done is often of poor quality and the final bills are often far higher than what was originally quoted (which are frequently excessive to begin with).
Although they can be quite charming in their attempts to get you to agree to the work, they often turn threatening when it comes time to pay. Many go as far as to drive elderly residents to the bank in order to force them to withdraw more money. A few months later, when there are weeds coming through the tarmac, the traders have vanished with little hope of finding them. The Council does not employ people who do this and tarmac jobs are always planned so there is no tarmac left over, so any such claims will be false.
In a variation on the same scam these workmen may also be offering to clean roofs & driveways, replace lost tiles, do guttering and fascia work or other forms of home maintenance. Typically they target those less able to check the quality of the work, such as pensioners who will not able to see what the work on the roof is actually like, or who may be easily intimidated into parting with large sums of money.
If you have any evidence that such workmen are extorting the elderly or vulnerable in your area, then we suggest that you get as much information as you can and contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040506 or 0208 1850710, who will immediately pass your information to Trading Standards. In particular, we would like to be informed immediately if you are aware that a gang is currently working in your area. Alternatively, phone the police.
Websites may offer tickets to popular events at discounted prices, or for events that are otherwise sold out. If you purchase the tickets there is a real risk they may not to be delivered. After the event has taken place the website you have purchased from ceases to trade. Only purchase tickets from reputable websites that have a good history of successful deliveries. Be particularly wary of websites that seem to be set up to sell tickets to one event only.
Timeshare Resale Scams
You are contacted by or respond to an advert from a trader who offers to take your timeshare or holiday club points off your hands. It claims it will be able to provide a buyer for the points. However either they or the “buyer” they find request that you must first make another large payment or purchase even more points from them. You are asked to sign documents. On examining these later you find that the company has promised to do almost nothing in return for your money.
They will give you an unspecified proportion of your money back at some date in the future. By this time the company is often long gone. Alternatively they may claim that they want to recruit you into making a legal claim against your timeshare company, but when you go to the presentation you are then given a hard sell.
If you have received or fallen victim to one of these scams, click here to find out what you can do.