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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February 2005, 16:11 GMT
Phone lottery scams illegal in EU
Phone fraudsters net 150m a year, OFT estimates
Unsuspecting consumers can be duped into phoning for fake prizes
The practice of operating telephone lottery scams has been declared illegal throughout the European Union.

The legislation is targeted mainly at the UK, where the Office of Fair Trading has identified such scams as one of the country's top 10 frauds.

Until now, firms operating the scheme have dodged the law by basing themselves outside Britain.

The rules, passed unanimously by the European Parliament, are part of wider EU laws on unfair commercial practice.

There has been a recent explosion in the number of people receiving unwanted automated phone calls telling them they have won a prize if they return the call.

These scams are a real headache - not only are the calls an unwanted nuisance, they can also end up costing a lot of money for vulnerable and unsuspecting people
Diana Wallis
British Liberal Democrat MEP

But before they can claim anything, people are told to send money to pay for administration fees and taxes - and all, of course, for a prize that does not exist.

The Office of Fair Trading believes the practice is netting fraudsters up to 150m a year.

Diana Wallis, a British Liberal Democrat MEP who helped oversee the new legislation, says the rules spell the end for the fraudsters.

Unfair commercial practices

"These scams are a real headache. Not only are the calls an unwanted nuisance, they can also end up costing a lot of money for vulnerable and unsuspecting people."

"All of us have experienced the problem of incessant and unwanted phone calls telling us we have won a prize," Ms Wallis said.

"The new legislation will help to get to grips with this at home and abroad."

She added that the changes will also cover the malpractice of "vendors posing as a private seller or a seller's agent when they actually are acting as a business or trade".

All European Union governments must now make the changes part of their national law.

Have you been affected by one of these phone scams? Will the new laws help end such scams?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

International calling is getting cheaper and like spammers, the phone crooks hide in countries that really don't care or, worse, profit from fraud
Alain Chabot, Quebec, Canada
Someone hit the nail on the head: These things are just going to get worse. International calling is getting cheaper and like spammers, the phone crooks hide in countries that really don't care or, worse, profit from fraud. My solution is simple: We should cut off those countries from the international phone system and/or the internet until they get their act together. They'd do it fast, I bet.
Alain Chabot, Quebec, Canada

Are you people mad? The "Prince of Nigeria" has assured me that I will receive 3,000,000!
Robert Sutton, Halifax, England

Our telephone number is ex-directory, so how have this fraudsters got hold of it? It's bad enough when genuine cold callers ring us and we challenge them about the number, the lies they tell and they refuse point blank to remove our details from their lists! We get more unwanted cold calls than we do calls from friends and family!
Cherry, Bracknell, UK

As a night shift worker I truly hate these people. I now pay for an anonymous caller rejection on my telephone line so any call withholding the number is blocked - that helps - but why should I have to go to these lengths and also pay? It also means that my brother (living in Germany) has to call me on my mobile and ask me to lift the barring before he can call me. My telephone company could help. I also work for them so I know there are things they do already do. Unfortunately, like the banks claiming cards are never cloned, the consequences of admitting a problem will result in a legal frenzy of claims.
Martin, Kent, UK

I just started received these calls recently. Most of the calls do not leave a sender ID however one as far as I could tell is in Egypt. The only way that this problem can be reduced is by forcing telecoms providers to place a block on all calls coming into the country from a number once they are informed of the nature of the calls or recognise it as autodialer.
Phil, Oxford, UK

I sense a new niche market for a device to block these calls - or does one exist already? We can already filter our emails to some degree so why can't we do the same with phone calls?
KB, London, UK

I received a few of these calls and realised that if you hang up too quickly they call you back later, so I revised my approach. The next time I just put the telephone handset down and left it, off the hook, for half an hour or so after the call completed. I figured this probably ties up one of their phone lines until I put the handset back on the hook. Interestingly, I haven't had any more of these calls since I tried this.
Simon, Knutsford, UK

Canned prize messages that are too good to be true are a source of annoyance that need to be dealt with. The telephone was invented to be a convenience, I'm sure Alexander Bell would turn in his grave if he knew what it was being used for now.
Sam, Dunfermline, Scotland

These scams are operated by crooks - do you think that they will pay any attention to an EU directive?
Alan Addison, Glasgow, UK
These scams are operated by crooks. Do you think that they will pay any attention to an EU directive? As long as there are stupid people who will fall for these scams, the scams will operate. I do feel sorry for genuine businesses that lose custom because of these scammers. For instance, I was recently offered a free holiday as an inducement to buy something and I walked away from the sale because of this. It turns out it was a genuine offer, but the sale was lost.
Alan Addison, Glasgow, UK

I have never had anybody phone me with regards to a lottery scam, but I have received literally hundreds of emails trying to pull the same sort of stunt, so I hope email scams have been included.
John Dean, Mansfield, UK

Outlawing these calls won't help - my phone is already registered with the telephone preference service which legitimate cold callers are legally obliged to not call or face fines, but I still receive these automated calls. All the time these companies can base themselves somewhere else, they have a loophole that means they don't have to respect the laws of the country they're targeting.
Steve, Oxford, UK

While the legislation is good at heart, these fraudsters obviously know that they are conning people - whatever makes people think that these same people are going to obey this law?
Darryl LeCount, Paderborn, Germany

My wife and I are having a constant problem with her 80-year-old father who replies to every mailshot and phone call convinced he is the winner of one of these huge prizes. Our continuing attempts to stop him are always met with, "you won't be saying that when I get the money". Hopefully this will put a stop to his spending and the crooks gain.
Jeff, Runcorn, UK

This is a welcome initiative. It's a good example of the EU taking necessary action which would be simply impossible without a degree of shared sovereignty. What does the EU do for us Brits? Well, this for starters!
Jonathan Church, London, UK

I have experienced this type of call on holiday in England at my parent's home. In one night the phone rang nine times in two hours. My parents are in their 80's and are fed up with not knowing if the call is genuine or not.
Sue Simpson, Germany

Laura has offered me the same holiday too! Generous lady. This crime only works because the caller receives money automatically. If you get a fraudulent charge on your credit card it is blocked and no money paid. It should be possible to do the same for telephone calls. Unfortunately, telephone companies have still not shaken off their "state enterprise" mentality so are happy to call us customers but do nothing to help when their service is used by criminals. The phone companies should be made liable for the charges, then watch them suddenly start to "assist their customers".
Des, Kingston, UK

Recently I've been receiving calls from 'Laura' the computer telling me I've won a holiday to Orlando, Florida. For some reason I just don't believe her and I've never returned her calls. I don't understand why anyone can fall for these schemes. You never get anything for nothing in this world.
Stephen Elliot, Ormskirk, Lancashire

Fraudsters will simply find some other way to con people out of their money
Matt, UK
Although it is a step in the right direction, phone scams represent just one type of fraud. Fraudsters will simply find some other way to con people out of their money until a coherent approach to targeting all forms of fraud is implemented. The EU needs to tackle root legislation rather than treating each type of fraud as a separate case.
Matt, UK

Personally I think phone companies should be doing much more to screen these calls. They should have dedicated teams committed to tracing stopping these scams - blocking the calls before they get to the customer. Autodiallers on your pc are even worse.
James, London, UK

Haven't heard of that in Holland yet, or at least not in my circle of family and friends. I can see where this is a major problem, caused by data (phone numbers and other personal data to go with these numbers) being purposely sold to third party companies, who then use it for these purposes. I myself only have a cellphone and explicitly told my provider I do not want my number in a phonebook. Once you're in the phonebook, your personal data are out in the open and thus free to pass on to everyone the phone company wants to.
Johan, Haarlem, the Netherlands

This problem is only going to get worse as international call charges get forever cheaper. But maybe this would be a good thing, because it might actually force governments to finally address this issue and hopefully email spam too - at a global level, and in a way that actually works. Government initiatives so far to solve email spam are totally useless.
Colin Manning, Cambridge, UK

As a ferry operator offering genuine low-priced mini-cruise holidays these scams have affected our core business by making consumers wary of genuine offers believing their must be a trick. Legitimate and genuine bonded and approved operators suffer from the actions of those who operate outside of the law with up to now apparent impunity.
Michael Wood, Newcastle, England

These calls are the bane of my life!
George W, London, England
These calls are the bane of my life! I get at least two a week (often more). Particularly annoying are the ones for holidays, which are painful reminders of my disability and that I am unlikely ever to go on holiday again - very depressing as well as being a nuisance. I don't know if the new laws will help, I can't tell if the calls originate in the EU, but the accents seem to be American. I also resent the assumption that everyone is interested in lotteries etc. I have never entered a competition or put my name down for a lottery and never will (for religious/ethical reasons) - at least that makes it easier to resist these pests.
George W, London, England

Every morning at around 10am I win a trip to the Bahamas. Sometimes, if it's a bad day, I also win a BMW "M" series car. The problem with the BMW is that the call comes at before 8am and I hate to be woken up! To claim my magnificent fortunes, all I have to do is dial a non-geographic (09) number, fork out some cash, and wait for hell to freeze over. I'm delighted if these prank calls are truly to stop.
Nathan, Oxford, UK

I'm ashamed to say that I fell foul of a telephone scam. It was one of those automated messages that said if you pressed 1' you would win this prize. Instead I received a 6 charge on that call when the phone bill came in. Does this mean that these scams will move outside of the EU now?
Maurice William, York, England

My mother has had several such calls from the US or Canada, so I cannot see how European legislation can make much of a difference.
John, Inverness, Scotland

In order to attack phone and postal fraudsters you need a global agreement and that is also the case in order to destroy the constant flow of scams through our post and emails. Firstly it is not practical. Secondly it is now possible that we in the UK will soon be buried under two trillion pounds of personal debt, desperation being a good bait for scammers. Finally, to make a few examples of people will mean nothing to individuals operating from a computer in the middle of nowhere and with nothing to lose, as is the case with some email scams. This attempt at control is a practical dead end.
Lance, Pulborough, Sussex, UK

We received a premium rate phone charge of $82 for something we never dialled. Our phone company washed their hands of the whole affair even though they are breaking existing law concerning making profits from the proceeds of crime, but what can the poor customer do?
Daniel Walsh, Boothstown, England

I get, on average, two to three calls a week and a lot end up on my answerphone. What is really annoying is that some are recorded messages that click on when you answer the phone and you cannot cut them off. you click off or put the phone down and they are still talking when you pick it up again
John, Essex, UK

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