Page last updated at 04:12 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 05:12 UK

Mass-market scams rake in 3.5bn

Cash going up in flames
Fraudsters will try to take advantage of the economic downturn warns the OFT

Fraudsters will devise more mass-marketed consumer scams to take advantage of the economic downturn, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) warns.

It says the fraudsters will increasingly try to cash in on their victims' "financial desperation".

Research by the OFT suggests that as many as three million people a year have lost money to consumer frauds.

And the regulator estimates that these mass marketing scams have cost their victims 3.5bn.

"Scammers are sophisticated and understand that during difficult economic times tempting promises of prize draw and lottery wins or money making schemes are very attractive to people feeling the pinch," said Mike Haley of the OFT.

Valuable information

The regulator says that a public campaign earlier this year, in which it encouraged people to dump examples of scam mailings in bins at local libraries across the UK, gave it some valuable information.

When clearing [my mother's] house I removed about 30,000 letters all tightly knotted in carrier bags. They were pushed in drawers and cupboards and her shed was full of them
Marilyn Baldwin

"The huge range of mailings uncovered by the Scamnesty campaign illustrate that there really is a scam for everyone," said Mr Haley.

Drawing on an analysis of the 15,000 examples it collected, the OFT found that the most common scams involved bogus sweepstakes, prize-draws, clairvoyants, foreign lotteries and miracle health cures.

Typically these were operated by phone, email, text or over the phone.

Examples were most prevalent in Derbyshire, Edinburgh, Brighton and Hove, Hampshire and Norfolk, which all reported at least 1,000 separate scam mailings.

The OFT warned that the easiest way to tell that such an offer was fraudulent was if it turned up out of the blue, promised something for nothing and asked for some sort of payment up front.

Some victims of these scams can end up spending thousands of pounds, regularly replying to scam letters.

One of these was Jessica Looke, of Derby, who died aged 83 having spent 50,000 over the previous five years replying to these mailings.

"When clearing her house I removed about 30,000 letters all tightly knotted in carrier bags. They were pushed in drawers and cupboards and her shed was full of them," said daughter Marilyn Baldwin, who has started a campaign to raise awareness of these scams.


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