They sound too good to be true - and they usually are.
Scams. Rip-offs. Swindles. And those oh so tempting ‘get rich quick’ investments. And there’s no shortage of them – or sadly of victims who fall prey to them.
That’s why May is Scams Awareness Month and Wigan Council’s Trading Standards team are using the opportunity to raise awareness and to warn residents to be on their guard against unscrupulous conmen.
Whilst scams can take many forms, they are all designed to trick you out of your hard-earned cash. Common scams include foreign lottery wins, where victims are asked to pay a fee to claim their non-existent ‘prize’, and miracle health cures which don’t simply try to deceive you out of your money but also entice you to buy un-tested products that pose potential health risks.
Scams are usually unsolicited, often from a company or person you’ve never heard of. The approach can be via the post through a letter or promotional leaflet, or by email either directly or through wholesale promotional messages known as 'spam'. Others prefer to contact potential victims by phone, often referred to as 'cold calling'; or by text message. And of course conmen can even turn up unannounced on your doorstep in person.
The tell-tale signs that you may be getting targeted by a conman include for instance, the person or company only giving you a mobile phone number as a contact or using a PO box number or mail box as an address.
But regardless of how they approach you or on what grounds, the advice is simple.
Never give out bank details to people you don't know or people you meet online. If you receive emails or letters about a scam, don't reply – even to say no. Once scammers get a reply, they will send more unwanted messages.
If you are cold-called by a scammer, hang up. Don't give out any personal details like your address or 'confirm' details like your bank account number.
If you answer the door to a salesperson, ask to see their ID. Check the company name and then call the company to check the person works there.
Cllr Kevin Anderson, Cabinet member for communities and the environment, says:
"Conmen make all kinds of extravagant promises, but if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Their approach is often unsolicited, designed to catch you off guard.
“They can be very convincing, particularly when using heavy handed, high pressure sales pitches, and draw you in with incentives such as free prizes or alternatively force you into a corner by insisting the deal is 'now or never'.
“I urge people to be vigilant and to never reveal sensitive or confidential information to strangers, regardless of how plausible they may appear."
Julie Midlehurst, Trading Standards manager adds:
“Misleading mailings make false promises of huge bogus lottery wins or other high value prizes, but they always insist on payment to the sender before any winnings can be claimed.
"These kinds of scams often target the elderly or vulnerable who can find themselves on the receiving end of wave after wave of letters, with some being sent up to 600 misleading letters a month from across the world. Those that fall victim to the mailings can send off hundreds of pounds a month over many years and despite the riches promised in each letter, they never win a penny.
Our advice is simple. Never respond to any uninvited letter, email, phonecall or text which promises a prize or other reward and remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”
If you or someone you know has fallen victim to one of these scams and you would like further advice, contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08456 04 05 06.