OFT fights the scammers

OFT fights the scammers

Awareness month to focus on help and advice for the elderly

The UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched its annual Scams Awareness Month with the warning that fraudsters are using increasingly sophisticated methods to fleece British consumers.

Mass-marketed scams cost the UK public £3.5bn a year and the elderly are often the hardest hit, so this year's awareness month is focussing particularly on that group.

Every year an estimated three million UK consumers fall victim to scams such as bogus lotteries, deceptive prize draws and sweepstakes, fake psychics and " miracle" health cures.

The OFT's research shows that older victims are the easiest targets for scammers and are likely to lose nearly twice as much money per scam as others. This is because they are often socially isolated, over-trusting or afflicted by illnesses such as dementia and because of this often repeatedly targeted by fraudsters. Many lose their life savings and suffer depression and ill health as a result.

Daniel Blake, policy development danager for Action on Elder Abuse, said: " Scammers operate through a ruthless circle of psychological and financial abuse. They gain people's trust and exploit fears, insecurities and pain to steal as much money as they can from those who can least afford it.

"We are supporting this campaign to empower consumers and their support networks to stamp out scams."

The OFT is working with a number of partners, including Carers UK, Help the Aged and Age Concern, to highlight the plight of elderly scam victims and show how to help them. It has also produced a new leaflet (PDF) for carers and care professionals, Can you stop the person you care for from being scammed?, and an accompanying leaflet (PDF), Don't Let them Con You.

People who think they have been the victim of a scam, or if someone suspects a scam can also go to the Consumer Direct website for advice or call 08454 04 05 06.

Mike Haley, OFT director of consumer protection, said: "Scammers use sophisticated psychological techniques to target people who are often the most vulnerable in society.

"Those who fall for these scams not only lose their savings, but often live in fear, suffering debt and depression and being too afraid to tell anyone of their plight. We want to ask family members, carers and others to help spot the warning signs before it is too late."

Scam Awareness month is an annual international initiative organised by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (Icpen).

The OFT's Scambusters team looks at various scams with the support of Trading Standards services, Consumer Direct, the Advertising Standards Authority and other consumer and industry bodies both in the UK and internationally.