As Christmas approaches, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s Trading Standards Service (TSS) is urging consumers to be on their guard against the top five most likely festive scams of 2011. Scams are estimated to cost consumers in Northern Ireland £100million every year.
The most common scams reported to TSS are:
Fake websites selling counterfeit goods- Many shoppers will be buying presents online for their loved ones this Christmas but end up purchasing fake goods by mistake. The most common complaints are about GHD hair straighteners, UGG boots, make-up and jewellery. However consumers have also reported buying a wide variety of fake goods ranging from clothes and shoes to iPods. Be wise -The main areas of risk are auction sites and entirely fake websites. It is always best to stick to familiar brand-name or retailer websites. You can also use search engines to research a website to see if people have had problems with them. Shoppers should be aware that a website that includes '.uk' in its address does not mean the trader is based in the UK. A seller based abroad can often be impossible to trace. Police in the UK have recently closed down thousands of fake websites.
Fake credit providers/ online loan applications:Christmas can be a time when consumers find it difficult to make ends meet and many are forced to borrow money to pay for food and presents. The scammers prey on those who have a poor credit history or need money quickly. A person will typically reply to an advert for a fast loan and will have their application approved regardless of their credit history. Before they receive the loan, they are told they must pay an upfront fee to cover insurance for the loan. In most cases, consumers are asked to send money to India as “admin fees”. Once this fee is paid, the victim does not hear from the company again and the loan is never received. Be wise - Be very careful when dealing with loan companies that charge upfront fees. Don't believe adverts that claim that a loan is guaranteed. Do not wire money to loan companies using money transfer when applying for loans.
‘Free Trial’ slimming and beauty products- As the New Year approaches, many consumers resolve to get fit and lose weight. Some consumers are duped into purchasing slimming tablets online. Consumers are led to believe that, when purchasing their free sample online, they are paying only for its postage and packaging. However, they had in fact signed up to a £69 per month regular supply of the product. Be wise - Always read the terms and conditions carefully to know exactly what they are signing up to. Miracle health scams often target vulnerable people, such as those who are desperate to lose weight or find a cure for illness. It is unlikely that such products have been properly tested or that there is any proof that they are medically effective. Some of these products may even be harmful.
“Help! I’ve been robbed” scam - This travel scam sends fake distress messages to family and friends requesting that money be wired or transferred so that they can get home. Trading Standards predicts this scam could rise during the busy travel season. Be wise - Be wary of any email that you receive that asks you to wire money, even if the message appears to come from a friend. Moreover, consumers should make sure that their email account details are as secure as possible, and be wary of possible phishing scams designed to steal their webmail account details.
Remote PC Support - In this latest scam, householders receive a phone call from a person claiming to represent major PC or software companies. Some of the callers claim that the consumer’s home PC has a virus, system crash or is running slowly. They go on to say that they can resolve the ‘problem’ with the computer remotely – if the consumer gives them their credit card details and/or remote access to their PC. Be wise - Be suspicious of unsolicited calls related to a security problem, even if they claim to represent a respected company. Never provide personal information, such as credit card or bank details, to an unsolicited caller. Do not go to a website, type anything into a computer, install software or follow any other instruction from someone who calls out of the blue.
Damien Doherty, Trading Standards Service said: "While we may all think that we are too canny to get caught out by the scammers, evidence shows otherwise. The current uncertain economic climate is providing an ideal opportunity for scams to thrive and TSS is being inundated daily with complaints about the latest cons and frauds. The Trading Standards Service is continuing to actively promote awareness of common scams and help ensure that all consumers in Northern Ireland have the tools and skills they need to recognise, report and combat scams."
If you are the victim of a scam, or have information about a suspected scam, tell family and friends and contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262 or log on to website. Consumerline is the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s consumer advice helpline.