UK Agency Starts Scams Awareness Month

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The United Kingdom's Office of Fair Trading, an agency similar to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, began a monthlong campaign yesterday to alert the public about deceptive and fraudulent cross-border and mass-marketed scams.


The effort aims to give consumers information to recognize, report and eliminate scams, many of which originate from overseas.


The OFT recently won the first-ever European cross-border action when the Commercial Court in Brussels ruled in its favor in preventing Belgian company D Duchesne SA from sending misleading mailings to UK consumers.


OFT's campaign is coordinated throughout the member countries of the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network, an organization comprising agencies in more than 30 countries. The FTC is a member.


The campaign also supports furthering cross-border cooperation between network members and other agencies such as the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.


In October, OFT cooperation with these agencies helped bring more than 100 arrests in the United States and 35 in other countries involving telemarketing scams.


Along with alerting the public about scams they may receive by e-mail, mail or telephone, the campaign includes a worldwide Internet sweep, coordinated across ICPEN member countries, to identify scams that use unsolicited e-mail, or spam.


The effort rolls out over the month and features weekly announcements highlighting different types of scams and advice on how consumers can recognize and protect themselves against them.


The agency yesterday identified the top 10 scams targeting UK consumers. It said UK consumers lose about $1.88 billion annually to scams that use low-cost, mass-marketing techniques to target recipients. Many of the scams originate from overseas, making detection and prosecution tougher, the agency said. Top scams include:


* Telephone lottery scams, including the Canadian lottery scam and the El Gordo Spanish lottery scam, which deceptively uses the name of a genuine lottery. People respond to an unsolicited mailing or telephone call telling them they are being entered into a prize drawing. They then get a call congratulating them on winning a big prize in a national lottery -- but before they can claim their winnings, they must send money to pay for taxes and processing fees. The prize doesn't exist.


· Prize drawings, sweepstakes and foreign lottery mailings that take the form of drawings, lotteries or government payouts. Most appear to be a notification of a prize in an overseas drawing or lottery in return for administration or registration fees.


· Premium-rate telephone number scams, in which consumers are notified by mail of a win in a sweepstakes offer that includes instructions to call a premium-rate phone number to claim a prize.


· Investment-related scams, which include an unsolicited phone call offering the chance to invest in shares, fine wine, gems or other soon-to-be-rare commodities. These investments often carry high risk and may be worth much less than a consumer pays.


· Nigerian advance-fee frauds, which come as an offer via letter, e-mail or fax to share a huge sum of money in return for using the recipient's bank account to permit the transfer of the money out of the country. The perpetrators either use the information given to empty their victim's bank account or convince him or her that money is needed upfront for bribing officials.


· Other scams include pyramid schemes, matrix schemes, credit scams, property-investment schemes and work-at-home and business-opportunity scams.


Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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