I have heard a lot of talk about ‘scamming’. What can you tell me about this?

Call it what you will – hoax, con, swindle, cheat – scamming is big, if criminal, business these days. Citizens Advice estimates that as much as £5 billion is lost each year by UK consumers to mass-marketed scams via phone and post.

Scams aren’t a minor inconvenience: they cause distress and misery; they ruin lives in some cases; and, even where the losses are comparatively low, they lead to widespread loss of consumer confidence.

Scams Awareness Fortnight is in June and the central message is that we want people to take a moment and trust their gut instinct so that they: get advice, report scams and tell others about their experiences.

There are some key messages to help consumers protect themselves from the predatory attention of scammers.

• Don’t ever allow yourself to be rushed into a decision. Resist the pressure to make a decision straight away.

• Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

• Don’t suffer in silence – speak out about scams.

• If you haven’t bought a ticket, you can’t win it.

• Never send money to someone you have never met or don’t trust.

• You shouldn’t have to pay anything to get a prize you have genuinely won.

• If you are contacted out of the blue, be very suspicious.

• Always reject cold calls offering investment or pension advice.

• Walk away from job adverts that ask for money in advance.

• Genuine computer firms do not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer.

Be wary of people using phrases such as: ‘you have won a special prize or lottery’; ‘this message is highly confidential'; ‘you are a guaranteed winner ’; or ‘you need to get in touch to get an unclaimed prize/award’.

These phrases are designed to intrigue and stimulate our natural curiosity to know more. Once hooked, a victim will be trapped in a never ending stream of letters, phone calls and payment demands which ask for ‘necessary’ taxes; release fees; administration charges; and any other ruse the scammers can think of to keep their victims sending money. Sometimes, in one final, ironic twist, adding insult to injury, scammers will even put “This is not a scam” on their mailings or phone messages!

Some other techniques scammers use to convince us that they are genuine include sending out false testimonials and photographs of fictitious winners; claiming to be lottery officials, clairvoyants, chief executives of big businesses or presidents of banks, or they use other important sounding titles and names; or they hide behind letters from fictitious charities, using distressing photographs in an attempt to pull at the heartstrings of caring people.

Scammers will sometimes refer victims to a website to check out their status and can build very convincing pages which mimic legitimate sites. They sometimes also disguise mailbox addresses by calling them things like ‘suite’, ‘unit’, or ‘apartment’ to create the illusion that they are operating from a traceable office or grand building, and can have mail printed with a Royal Mail stamp, which gives the impression it has originated from the UK.

So, if you receive a mailing out of the blue promising you an unbelievable prize, don’t believe it. Stay scam safe.

If the scammer claims to be your bank (as well as the police or other officials or companies in a position of trust) remind yourself that UK banks, including all the major high street banks and many others, have signed up to a code of practice to help fight fraud. Your bank will never:

• phone you to ask for your PIN or your online banking password, even by tapping it into the telephone key pad.

• ask you to withdraw money to hand over to them for safe-keeping.

• ask you to transfer money into a new account for fraud reasons, even if they say it is in your name.

• send anyone to your home to collect cash, your PIN, payment card or chequebook if you are a victim of fraud.

• ask you to purchase goods using your card and then hand them over for safe-keeping.

If you are given any of these instructions, it is a fraudulent approach. Hang up, wait five minutes to clear the line or where possible use another line to call the bank or card issuer on their advertised number to report the fraud. If you don’t have another telephone to use, call someone you know first to make sure the telephone line is free. Your bank will also never ask you to check the number showing on your telephone display matches their registered telephone number. The display cannot be trusted, as the number showing can be altered by the caller.

Next Steps:

You can find out more about regular and emerging scams on the Action Fraud website: wwwactionfraud.police.uk; or on Facebook by liking Action Fraud at: wwwfacebook.com/actionfraud; or on Twitter, follow @Actionfrauduk.

Another helpful source of information is the metropolitan police “Little Book of Big Scams”. It highlights a range of dubious practices designed to con people out of their money; www.met.police.uk/fraudalert.

The Citizens Advice website (www.citizensadvice.org.uk) has more detailed information about common scams and unfair practices and how to avoid them. If you think you may have been scammed you can seek help from the Citizens Advice scams advisers by calling 0808 250 5050 OR using our chat service to talk to a Scams Action adviser online, or to book a face-to-face appointment.

If these aren’t available you can fill in our scams contact form and an adviser will get in touch with you.