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OFT exposes tricks of the fraud trade

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As part of Scams Awareness Month, the Office of Fair Trading is highlighting the top five tricks of the trade used by scammers to con the UK public out of an estimated £3.5bn a year.

Although there are many different types of scam delivered through the post, by email, over the phone, or in person, most use the same basic techniques to deceive over three million UK consumers every year.

The first trick is offering the unattainable dream. Scammers hook unsuspecting victims by promising to fulfil their dreams and aspirations. They are told that they alone have been chosen because they are special, but in fact the same scam has been sent to thousands of other people.

Scammers also use official sounding names and job titles or refer to important sounding organisations to give a false impression that the scam comes from someone in a position of high authority who can be instantly trusted. This works by overcoming the initial gut feeling that something is not quite right.

Another method of deception is using fake deadlines to create a sense of urgency and a fear of missing out. Victims are told that if they don’t reply immediately the opportunity will be gone forever, triggering an impulse to respond before they have the chance to think the offer through properly.

Using fake testimonials from satisfied customers to reinforce the impression that the scam offer is genuine also takes place. This exploits people’s normal tendency to follow the crowd and helps to validate what is being offered. Money back guarantees are also offered to convince victims that they are dealing with a legitimate trader and that there is no risk in sending off money.

The OFT has also launched two new interactive scam guides designed to help people understand how scams attract consumers. The new guides, featuring a ‘fake slimming mailing’ and an ‘advance fee/419 scam email’, contain ‘pop-up’ text highlighting the tricks used by the scammers to convince people that the offers are genuine. The interactive guides can be found in the scams area of the Consumer Direct website.

Mike Haley, OFT director of consumer protection, said: “Scammers are expert at exploiting people’s hopes and fears. Anyone can be conned but by learning to recognise the scammer’s tricks we can all avoid becoming their next victim.”


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