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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 14:59 GMT
Canadian swindlers target UK pensioners
By Julian Knight
BBC News Online consumer affairs reporter

Warwick Pelta lost his savings

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has warned that more than 15 call centres are targeting the UK with a new scam offering to forward winnings from the Canadian Lottery in return for a fee.

Here BBC News Online tells the story of how Warwick Pelta, a pensioner from Southampton, fell victim to the scam.

Warwick was at home with his wife Eunice when the phone rang.

He was told to sit down by the caller as he had some marvellous news - Warwick had won second prize in the Canadian Lottery and was soon to be 500,000 richer.

Warwick was told that his name had been entered into the lottery draw and been picked at random.

"I was initially sceptical as I hadn't bought a ticket but the caller said that the Canadian Lottery worked differently to the UK one. The caller was very plausible and seemed genuinely pleased to be passing on the news."

I couldn't help dreaming about what I would do with the money - help my children out for a start

But there was a sting in the tail: In order to get the money Warwick would have to wire an 'administration fee' of 1,600 to Canada.

A fool and his money are easily parted, the saying goes.

But Warwick has run his own business for the past 30 years, and the OFT says thousands of others have been tricked before him.

Broken dreams

"I couldn't help dreaming about what I would do with the money - help my children out for a start."

British consumers appear easy prey for the men and women operating the get rich quick schemes

The day after receiving the call Warwick wired the money.

But no winnings arrived - only requests for more cash.

"They kept giving more reasons for me to transfer cash to them. At one stage they told me they were at Heathrow Airport and needed more cash to pay Securicor for the costs of transporting the winnings."

In total, the scam cost him more than 9,000 and the impact his life has been huge.

"I have taken out a loan against the value of my home - an awful thing to have to do at my age."

Cruel

In the cruellest cut of all, Warwick was told to wait in with Eunice as lottery representative would be arriving with champagne and flowers to hand over the winnings.

"We waited into the small hours for the representative to arrive, he never did. I knew then that I had been conned - I was sick to the pit of my stomach."

According to the OFT, Warwick was the victim of a classic sting.

Disturbingly, the bogus firms are focusing on the elderly - 80% of calls are directed at the over 65s.

One centre has defrauded UK consumers out of close to 450,000.

However, this may only be the tip of the iceberg as many incidents of fraud go unreported due to the victims keeping quiet out of shame.

UK and Canadian authorities are co-operating to close down the fraudsters but as soon as one operation is brought to an end, another opens up.

The OFT advice is clear: consumers who receive a call from a lottery firm telling them they have won should hang-up.

Impact

Warwick wishes he had been aware of the scam before the Canadian Lottery called.

To top it all, Warwick is still getting calls from scam firms trying it on.

Unfortunately, Warwick's name has been added to a 'sucker' list - the cold fraudster phrase for people who have been hoodwinked in the past.

Scam firms pay each other huge sums to obtain lists of such people.

"Three weeks after I had lost my money I got a call from someone claiming to represent Canadian customs who said they were tracing my cash, I saw it for what it was another scam."

"What I would tell everyone is just put the phone down on cold callers and don't ever pay money to obtain a prize."


SEE ALSO:
Warning over lottery scam
16 Sep 03  |  Northern Ireland
Bank card scam alert
02 Aug 03  |  Mid
Q&A: Avoiding the con artists
08 Oct 02  |  Business


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