Consumer advice organisation the UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) is urging all UK consumers to beware of

scammers posing as professionals from financial and legal services.

The message comes as new data is released at the start of Scams Awareness Month this June (2018), saying that there has been a 6% increase in the number of people reporting this type of scams to the Citizens Advice Consumer Service this financial year. Such cons now account for a fifth of all scams reported to the service. The median financial loss for all scams over this period was £330.

The data released at the start of the government-backed campaign – Scams Awareness Month – shows that investment scams in particular - such as cryptocurrency, binary option investments, holiday timeshares - are on the rise. The number of such cases reported to Citizens Advice doubled this year compared to last.

Andy Allen, service director at the UK European Consumer Centre, said: “Our cross-border consumer advice service often gets calls from distressed UK consumers who have been approached by people who promise to buy their holiday timeshare membership from them for an advanced fee.

“The bottom line is that it is very difficult indeed to find anyone who wants to buy holiday timeshares. The likelihood is that somebody who approaches you out of the blue will simply take your money and disappear, still leaving you with a timeshare you no longer want and a hole in your bank account to boo! Our message is to be wary.”

Consumer Minister Andrew Griffiths said: “Scams like these can have devastating financial and personal costs to those affected. Anyone can fall victim, young or old, which is why I am pleased to work with Citizens Advice to break the stigma around these serious crimes, which are targeted across all levels of society, yet remain under-reported.”

And Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Fraudsters are using new technology to peddle old tricks, posing as trustworthy professionals with persuasive offers. 

“Anyone can fall victim to these sophisticated scams, but all too often it’s the victim rather than the scammer who are left feeling sheepish. This isn’t right. So, this year we want to break down the stigma around these serious crimes, which are targeted across all levels of society, yet remain under-reported.

“Scams Awareness Month is a great reminder that we should all become familiar with the common signs of scams. People can take action and report any potential scams to the authorities so scammers aren’t walking away with your money in their bank account.”

Leon Livermore, chief executive of Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: "It’s worrying that scam victims still feel reluctant to come forward and report the crime. Nobody should suffer in silence. It is therefore reassuring and heartening to know that devoted trading standards and consumer protection champions around the country are tirelessly working in the background in spite of resource cuts, to help raise awareness and drive down criminal behaviour.”

Here is the UK ECC’s advice on scams:

How to spot a scam

There are a number of signs to look out for:

  • Being contacted out of the blue (also known as 'unsolicited') by telephone, post or email
  • The offer is too good to be true
  • Being asked to pay money up-front or to buy a product in order to claim your prize
  • If there is a deadline by which you must claim your prize
  • When contacted, if the person calling is overly familiar and friendly with you
  • Being asked for your bank account, credit card details or other confidential information
  • Being told that you need to keep the offer a secret 

If any of this seems familiar you may be facing or have faced a scam

General advice to avoid scams

Do not…

  • Enter into conversations with organisations that contact you in an unsolicited manner
  • Respond to unsolicited mails or emails
  • Part with any money, to either pay fees or purchase a product in order to claim a prize. Call a premium rate telephone line
  • Give out any personal information such as banking and credit card details or copies of documents such as your passport or driving licence

If you have already sent money or provided bank details, please take the following actions:

  • Do not send any more money; unfortunately, if you have already parted with money it may be very difficult for you to get it back
  • Contact your bank, building society or credit card company and close your account if you have given your details to a third party that you do not know and trust

If you receive any correspondence that may be a scam or an offer that you are just not sure of, always seek advice before acting.

Here are more details about types of scams:

Cryptocurrency - Fake websites claim to offer cryptocurrency investments, like Bitcoin. Often, scammers will pretend that household names have endorsed the company to give it some legitimacy

Binary options - Scammers pose as stockbrokers and get you to place bets on whether phoney shares will rise or fall within a certain date. They’ll promise big returns. You should check if they are on the FCA Register and not on the warning list of firms to avoid

Holiday timeshares - Scammers promise to buy your membership off you for an advanced fee.

Bogus solicitors - A scammer will intercept emails from a legitimate solicitor and pose as them. Scammers often strike when a property is being exchanged on and get the funds diverted to their bank account instead. Check if they are on the Solicitors Regulation Authority to see if they are genuine.

Scams Awareness Month is supported by the Consumer Protection Partnership. The CPP brings together key partners - including the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Citizens Advice and the UK European Consumer Centre - within the consumer landscape to better identify, prioritise and coordinate collective action to tackle detriment more effectively than they could through working in isolation.

Citizens Advice is urging anyone who thinks they may have been targeted by a scam to report it to authorities, through Action Fraud and the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06, or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.

If you are a UK consumer and find yourself in dispute with an EU trader, then please contact the UK European Consumer Centre for advice on 01268 88660 - weekdays between 9am and 5pm.