Scams aimed at consumers

If you are a consumer in Cheshire and want to report a scam, go to Citizens Advice Consumer Service. Alternatively look at some of the consumer communications scams.

Direct mail scams

Have you ever been told that you have won a prize draw or holiday or lottery but you do not remember entering a competition? Many people receive mail or telephone calls advising them they have won a prize when it is in fact a scam. We would advise you to throw the offer away but here are some more tips to avoid becoming victim of a scam:

  • If it is too good to be true it usually is
  • Have you been contacted out of the blue?
  • Never send any money in order to receive a prize
  • Check to see if you need to pay an administration fee, it might suggest that the holiday is “free” but you may have to pay taxes, transfers, administration costs which can all add up. There is usually availability restrictions and you might have to give very short notice.
  • Do not give your personal or bank details to anyone.
  • Do not ring the premium rate number. Often the cost of the call is more than the prize is worth.

Limit the volume of unsolicited mail you receive by registering with The Mail Preference Service.

MPS can help consumers in decreasing the amount of junk mail they receive at home.

HMRC iTunes Scam

Fraudsters are contacting residents claiming to be from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and trying to trick them into paying bogus debts and taxes using iTunes gift cards. 

Fraudsters are now moving onto iTunes gift cards to collect money from victims because they can be easily redeemed and easily sold on. The scammers don’t need the physical card to redeem the value and instead get victims to read out the serial code on the back over the phone. 

Fraudsters are contacting victims in three ways:

  • Voicemails: Fraudsters are leaving victims automated voicemails saying that they owe HMRC unpaid taxes. When victims call back on the number provided, they are told that there is a warrant out in their name and if they don’t pay, the police will arrest them.
  • Spoofed calls: Fraudsters are cold calling victims using a spoofed 0300 200 3300 number and convincing them that they owe unpaid tax to HMRC. 
  • Text messages: Fraudsters are sending text messages that require victims to urgently call back on the number provided. When victims call back, they are told that there is a case being built against them for an outstanding debt and they must pay immediately.  

One victim had reported purchasing over 15 iTunes gift card vouchers from Argos at £100 pounds each and handing them over to fraudsters on the phone after receiving an automated voice message. Another victim handed gift card voucher codes worth £15,000 after receiving a cold call. 

How to protect yourself

  • HMRC will never use texts to tell you about a tax rebate or penalty or ever ask for payment in this way.
  • Telephone numbers and text messages can easily be spoofed. You should never trust the number you see on your telephones display. 
  • If you receive a suspicious cold call, end it immediately.

Email addresses

HMRC will never send notifications of a tax rebate or refund by email, or ask you to disclose personal or payment information by email. Don’t visit the website within the email or disclose any personal or payment information. A selection of email addresses used to distribute the tax rebate scam emails are below:

It would help HMRC investigations if you report all ‘HMRC related’ phishing emails and bogus text messages to them. Even if you receive the same or similar phishing email or text message on multiple occasions, please forward it to email and then delete it.

Subscription Traps

Subscription traps take place when you sign up online or on the phone for free or low-cost trials of products, only to find that you have been unwittingly locked into costly repeat payments. Typically, these products are slimming pills, health foods, pharmaceuticals and anti-aging products but, increasingly, attractive consumer durable products such as the latest mobile phone are being featured.

The perpetrators of subscription traps exploit a ‘continuous payment authority’, normally by requesting your payment card details as proof of identity and age, then retaining those details to draw monthly payments from your account. Details of this ongoing commitment are generally buried in the terms & conditions and are missed by many people, eager instead to take advantage of the ‘fantastic offer’ being advertised.

The risks

  • Taking advantage of a free or low-cost offer, only to find that it ends up costing you hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
  • Not being able to cancel an agreement or stop payments being taken from your account.

Avoiding subscription traps

  • Read the small print (terms & conditions) carefully before entering into any agreement or making a purchase, however long this may take.
  • Make sure the terms & conditions box has not been pre-ticked.
  • If you make a purchase of this kind that gives you a limited timescale to cancel the agreement, make sure you do so before the due date if you want to cancel it.
  • Never provide bank details to companies without doing some prior research beforehand.
  • Keep a copy of any advertisement (print it or take a screenshot) that you reply to, and to keep a note of the webpage.
  • Remember that you will have more chance of cancelling agreements or obtaining a refund if the company is UK-based. Even those with UK addresses are often just fulfilment companies who are contracted to send out the goods. The companies themselves often have no physical presence in the UK.
  • Check your bank/payment card statements regularly for unexpected payments.

If you are the victim of a subscription trap

  •  Make every effort to contact the company concerned to cancel the agreement.
  • Contact your bank to cancel future payments.
  • Ascertain with your bank whether a new card is needed.
  • Request reimbursement from the supplier if the advertisement did not explain the charges, but be aware that without a copy, your claim may fail. If the website has changed in the meantime, try accessing your internet browser's cache or the internet archive.
  • Refer a complaint about the bank to the Financial Ombudsman Service If the bank refuses to stop the charges or reimburse charges that have been made, consider referring the issue to the Financial Ombudsman

Phishing / spam emails

Phishing is when you receive a spam email sent by someone who is pretending to be from your bank, building society or credit card company. The emails will ask you to verify your personal details, account number, pin number and passwords.  It will often say this is to prevent fraud or to update bank records. The emails look genuine and have all the correct logos. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that the email has come from your bank. A number of UK major banks have been affected by “phishing”.

If you respond to the email you may lose money from your bank account or you may be victim of identity theft!

To find out more about phishing and how to avoid it visit the banking industry advice website for safer online banking.