Consumers could be put on a "suckers" list if they respond to unlikely offers promising large sums of money, the Office of Fair Trading warns.
In response they are launching a campaign to help people identify scams so they are not caught out in the first place by the ever increasing sophisticated fraudsters.
Work-at-home scams head the top ten list which also includes telephone lottery scams and pyramid investment schemes.
Have you been a scam victim? Do you think you could be on the "suckers" list? What can be done to stop the scammers?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
It is becoming a more widespread problem, and people just keep falling for it, ignoring all the warnings from banks/government etc. I must admit some of the scams are very clever, and quite easy to fall for, but the majority of these (lottery scams etc) are so obviously fake. Just ask yourself, did you ever buy a lottery ticket?
Roderick, Isle of Man
If you are looking for a flat to rent in London think twice before you give any money to an accommodation agency. They will ask for a sizeable fee but they aren't always as helpful as they promise!
Ben, London, England
I don't get any of the phone scams. The reason? I'm ex-directory. Simple but effective. As far as email goes, I don't have a problem with scams - but I don't know why! Maybe I'm just lucky!
Kitty, Leicester, UK
Basic rule of thumb. If you haven't entered a competition to win a holiday and haven't bought a lottery ticket in a foreign country, then the chances of winning either are absolutely zero. It's never been any different and it never will be.
Peter Thomas, London
A very well known double glazing company keeps calling us on regular intervals to set up a time for their representative to come and measure our windows under the pretence that we agreed this with their door-to-door salesperson. Last time I told them I'd sue them for harassment if I get another call from them. One would have thought that our number would be blacklisted by them already since we bought windows and doors from them several years ago and have been in conflict with them ever since due to the sub-standard quality and workmanship.
Almost every scam relies on the victim's greed hoping to get something for nothing or believing impossible promises and trusting complete strangers. Most astonishing is how scams exposed long ago like pyramid schemes and chain letters always seem to find new victims. Being originally from New York City and having lived in California, I have a lifetime inoculation having been exposed to these two scam capitals of the world.
I had a letter purporting to have come from a gas company suggesting I paid them money up front to protect myself from increased prices. Sad thing is, it was genuine......
Diana, London, UK
A fool and their cash are easily parted. If it sounds too good to be true, it is, if a "bank" calls asking for personal details, ask for a name and call your branch direct (or direct banking) to verify. What I don't understand is that surely the scammed money is going somewhere. Why can the mobile phone operators, credit card companies or banks not trace the culprits? Whose accounts are these cheques clearing in? Am I being naive?
I keep getting calls from an earnest young man in Cyprus trying to sell me equity in a company that makes road markings. What annoys me is that he probably got my name from the voter's roll, which our government kindly sells to marketers for profit, inflicting another hidden layer of tax on us by abusing our confidence and, in the process, leaving elderly and vulnerable people open to abuse.
Mike, London, UK
The Telephone Preference Service gives the database of phone numbers of people who don't want to be called to the companies that do all the calling. In theory the calling company can then check each number it is about to call against the list and shouldn't call those that are on the list. I reckon if I was running a scam, a validated list of phone numbers provided by the TPS would be a valuable list to start calling.
Russell Aisbitt, Lower Slaughter, UK
Our (small) limited company was sent an official looking letter saying we needed to be registered with the Data Protection Act and a large registration fee was given and warning of large fines. After looking into the documents it was a scare tactic scam.
James, Cornwall, UK
Have you ever tried to sell a car through Loot or Autotrader? If so, you will no doubt have had calls from companies saying they have buyers waiting and they'll put you all in touch for a £70 fee. This is a load of old cobblers. I had a friend who worked for one of these places and he's told me it's an absolute scam. They take your fee and then do absolutely nothing. Interestingly I have never ever seen these firms advertising anywhere for buyers or sellers so where do they get their buyers from? On one occasion last week I offered to sign up with their service and would pay their fee if they provided me with a buyer. Unsurprisingly that was the end of the call!
G D Price, London
Anyone who is sufficiently gullible that they are caught by a scam deserves the expensive lesson they get as a result.
So far I've yet to have a conman calling me for my credit card details. However, when the CC company themselves call, I always ask for some random information from my account which would not be available on my statement or the card itself. Asking for a couple of random digits from the Direct Debit information seems to do the trick, if not completely catch them off guard (although, the legit callers should understand and be able to comply).
Michael, Basingstoke, UK
I never open any unrecognised emails or reply to unsolicited letters in the post. Nor do I answer questionnaires or give any personal details whatsoever over the 'phone or other way. Also I'm ex-directory, and demand to know where cold-callers get my information from (there are still a few; one a month). After ten minutes of shouting at them down the 'phone, they don't call again!
I live with an aged parent who is addicted to scams. Every time I let her get a scam letter she sends money (she lives with me and I usually intercept the mail - over ten kilos in the last few weeks alone). Last year she sent £3,000 to a Canadian conman. The worst offenders are so-called jewellery scams, in which she is told she has won a huge cash prize but has to order £25 worth of cheap tat to get it.
She has sent them about £300 in the last couple of weeks alone, even when she gets two or three letters a day from the same people each promising her the same huge prize in a different version of her name. I have a spreadsheet with the 30plus "sucker" lists she is on. She simply will not believe any warnings, the police, the trading standards, BBC, the press, her friends, me, anyone. She is obsessed with sending money to scammers. It's an addiction, it really is. I am at my wits end.
George Edwards, Harrogate, UK
Has anyone else been a victim from this so called the Beverly Hills Jewellery, Fine Jewellery Exchange, or Precious Jewellery Source or Sweepstakes Centre¿ who claim to give out official grand prize of £20,000 to a select few. They keep bombarding with mails almost three to four a week. Is there a place I make a complaint about them?
Our household have recently discovered a phone scam. X company would phone, such as a windows company, and they say that they are following up a previous phone call to confirm someone to come round to the house and do some work. The scam is that they haven't phoned earlier and when you say, "I don't think you called", they say that they say, "We did, we spoke to Mr..." This can be confusing for households with more than one person or elderly people.
Jon Hawk, London, UK
If you are receiving odd texts always call your provider to get the correct information on what these are. They are not always £1.50 and don't all have the same stop procedure. Be warned and be alert.
Anytime I get one of these through the post, and if it has a pre-paid envelope I send back the forms fully completed but with no bank details or cash, stating that they can take it out of my winnings! If I get them through the email, I reply exactly the same, or return 10 or 20 emails with scam plastered all over them! Guaranteed to stop unwanted post and emails!
Sue, London, UK
Sue, London & others - by replying to email or junk mail do you not understand you are falling for the scam? They're building up a name database - that's how they make their money - and by replying to an email you have just confirmed that your email account exists and someone is reading it.
Rob Smith, London, UK
We can't do much about international numbers, but in the UK, 0906 premium rate phone numbers should be banned, full stop.
Darren Langley, Dudley, UK
I am registered with the Telephone Preference Service but it doesn't stop the latest scam craze - a taped message with an American accent telling me I have won a prize from a Las Vegas casino! Sadly I think the TPS only covers calls from the UK and not overseas.
Rob, Thatcham, UK
My wife's response to these scammers is simple: "Please take the fee out of my winnings and send me the rest." Needless to say, that is the end of the story each time.
Alan, London, UK
Watch for the latest credit card scam that has been cost some of my friends dearly. Cards are stolen from your office/factory. A plausible and smart caller calls you via your office switchboard and states that he is from the credit card company and that they have noticed irregular transactions on your card and can you verify the whereabouts of your card for the bank to know if the number has just been stolen or whether you card has been intercepted... then¿ guess what?
A sweaty but relieved employee returns to the phone after a frantic search of his/her wallet to report their card has indeed been stolen. The grateful employee happily verifies his/her date of birth and other security data on the mistaken belief that his/her helpful bank has stopped this card abuse. The "bank staff" helpfully takes about 20 minutes to cancel the card and reassures the cardholder that all earlier frauds have been cancelled.
In fact the call is from a phone box outside the banks/shops where one of the two thieves is fleecing your account. The fraudulent call either prevents the real bank from calling the employees if they are suspicious or actually provides security data which the caller has passed on to his accomplice by text so that he can answer any security questions correctly! Most banks/cards have the very same security questions i.e. mother maiden name, DOB and memorable place.
I too am getting taped phone calls every day inviting me to call a premium rate number to claim my prize. What I don't understand is that I signed up to the Telephone Preference Service a year ago so how have these jokers obtained my number?
Claire S, Exeter, UK
I'm a wedding photographer. I got a mail inviting me to quote for a wedding shoot in London. All the names were there and the address of a real chapel was given. However, the mail sounded too generic and made references to paying your airfare if you are from "out of state". So I ignored it.
I later discovered it was a variation on the fake cheque/bankers' draft scam. In this version, you're paid the fee up front, with the cheque being written for a higher amount. You're then supposed to send the difference to "the minister" who is performing the wedding ceremony.
Adrian, Staffordshire, UK
A couple of weeks ago I got some odd texts - they simply said "thank you" or were blank and had no return number. I thought they were service messages and so simply deleted them and thought nothing of it until I got my mobile bill last night which was double its usual rate. I called my phone company who were really helpful (for once!) and they said that this is a common scam.
A company gets hold of your number through any number of means, ring tone orders, competitions etc and texts you, these texts cost you £ 1.50 a time which unfortunately you are liable to pay. The only way to stop it is to get the short code (your phone company can usually trace this) and text the word stop to them.
Fortunately I am only a few quid down but the T Mobile rep had just had a call from someone who had been done for over £100. So the moral of this story is: Don't give out your mobile number to anyone unless you are sure they won't give it to a third party and don't ignore odd texts call your operator and find out the source.
I had (in my opinion) a new variation (to me) of the advance fee fraud recently. This was a leaflet through my letter box, (I had a for sale sign out side) saying House Buyers UK would buy my house, I just had to send a cheque (some £300) to an accommodation address on the leaflet and a surveyor would be in contact, yeah right!
Last year I started a new sport called scamming the scammers. What you do is start winding them up by answering their emails and saying that you are very interested in the money you have won or you'll be happy to let them use your bank account or whatever scam it is. I've had some of them hooked for over two months in some cases. You have to keep coming up with reasons and excuses why you can't send them money or can't do anything else that they ask.
They get more and more frustrated because they think they have found someone who's fallen for their scam when in reality you are just stringing them along. Most of them work it out after a month or so but it's good fun whilst it lasts. Of cause, never use your real name and always use an untraceable email address like a Hotmail or Yahoo address. It really is hours of endless fun!
Adrian Mugridge, Chester, UK
I've invested in a very simple trick - for my email I bought my own domain name which allows all permutations to that address to be sent to one account. Whenever I sign up to a new company, I use email@example.com That way if I start receiving spam or scams, I can see which company has been a little loose with my details. Buying and setting up a domain name is so cheap that anyone could do it - easily.co.uk etc. offer such services.
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It's so hard to keep email addresses away from the scammers now. All it takes is a friend to get a mass mailing Windows virus, and your well kept email address is out in the open. I also use the companyname@mydomain technique mentioned by Pete (above), and have found that the reputable companies I have dealt with have all been good with my address. The technique also helps me to spot fake emails easily, as the email from a given company will always come to their associated address.
I can also create throwaway addressed for use on websites, and delete them after a few weeks. I can't see laws to stop spam having much effect. The vast majority of spam I receive asks me to send account details for accounts I don't have. This behaviour is so obviously fraudulent that the perpetrators won't be discouraged by another little law to break.
Never send emails to have your address removed from mailing lists as it only shows that your account is active. And if your get phoned by someone who doesn't respond to being called a muppet don't phone their competition lines because you haven't won anything other than a £25 a minute phone bill.
Mike, Stoke on Trent
Don't accept banker's drafts when you are selling cars or bikes etc, unless the banks are open and you can have it verified. Many people think that a bankers draft is as good as cash, but its not if its a fake one! It takes a few days to find out that it is fake. The one I accepted made it through my bank, their clearing bank, and only fell foul when it tried to draw an account that didn't exist, four days later.
G, Newcastle, UK
Heed G, Newcastle's advice but be aware it can take a long time for a bankers draft to come up as fake, and your bank will reclaim from you if you draw from it. In some cases, I know a year later. I found a con man "selling" two cars on Mobile.de (a reputable site) both too good to be true for price so¿ alarm bells. Some checking on my behalf showed these to be false as the London postcodes led to well known landmarks and two e-mails I received from "different" sellers where identical.
Both wanted half the cash up front to have the car brought to me for a test drive and completion. I traced the owner of a false fair trade website I had been directed to then tried to report the fraud to the Metropolitan police and mobile.de. The Metropolitan Police web site had no way of reporting Internet frauds of values less then £750,000m and a phone call led me to an officer with no web experience. A report was made but I received no follow up despite having a clear lead to an offender in their operational area. Mobile.de at least for their part removed the offending listings but did not reply to me on the matter.
Doc, Le Viseney, France
Being a web developer for many years, I have seen a lot of scams come through to me offering money from Nigeria, mortgages, and asking me to check my bank details etc., so far from every bank in the UK. One did concern me once as it had my name at the beginning of the email, which I notified to the Met Internet Fraud team, who rang me back within 10 mins and told me not to worry, which was very re-assuring and prompt! I have also had several phone calls from different parts of the world, who also knew my name?
One of them in question is what I think; the BBC did a documentary about a while back. Best advice I can offer to the general public, is don't open or reply to any emails when you are not sure where/who they are from, just delete them. Have two email addresses, one for general internet use and one for personal use. With this method you can cut down on a lot of unknowns.
Andy, Blackpool, UK
We received a call saying we have won a prize and we should call a premium rate number. I suspected it was a scam but my wife said we had nothing to lose. It was and when I reported to the authorities I now understand why there are so many scams. The so-called regulator appears to have few teeth and in most cases I suspect that these people have taken the money and gone before the red tape has even been got out of the drawer.
Chris Parker, Buckingham
I once received a pyramid scheme letter containing £5, with the offer to make thousands. Of course an upfront payment of £100 was required for the mailing list. I kept the £5. People who are involved in these schemes should be hammered by the courts.
Neil Small, Scotland
One I heard about involved a friend of mine at work. He was telephoned by somebody claiming to be working for his credit card company. The caller was even able to provide my friend's card details over the phone. He then asked my friend to provide the security numbers on the strip at the back of the card and also his pin number. He explained that this was in order to run a security check. Obviously my friend cottoned onto the scam and hung up. He later contacted his credit card company whom informed him that his suspicions had proved correct. It was an attempt to defraud. On no occasion should you divulge pin numbers or security numbers to anyone. Even if they profess to be working for your bank or credit card company.
Guy Marcal, London
I am well aware of scams and the boys from Lagos, however, the latest scams are the ones which employ what is known as cold calling telling people that they have won a large sum of money but to find out more they have to dial a number which is a high premium one. The best way to deal with them is to ask them to hold and then leave the phone. They won't hold for long. Another way for junk mail is to post back to them in their prepaid envelopes, someone else's advert.
Thomas Lowry, Cirencester, UK
Register for call preference service via the BT website to stop taped phone messages and cold-calling - don't give away your email address or if you have to, have a second free email account open just for this purpose, and give this address, leaving your real email address free for emails you do want to receive.
Alan, Glasgow, Scotland
To follow on from Alan, Glasgow: The TPS website is also very handy and it takes less than two minutes to register so you won't be pestered with cold calls - www.tpsonline.org.uk
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Yvonne, Aberdeen, Scotland
I work closely with a team of people who attempt to identify and warn victims of the 419 Advance Fee or Nigerian Fraud. Time after time we see the same people targeted by scammers. The "sucker" list undoubtedly exists, and the scammers wax fat upon it. We encourage people to stop and think for a moment. How likely is someone to choose you at random to receive their millions?
How can you win a lottery you didn't buy a ticket for? Asking these two questions could save thousands of victims every year. For more information, and a chance to strike back at the scammers, please visit the Artists against 419 website.
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Con artists will always come up with new and ingenious ways to part the foolish and the greedy from their money. This has been happening for hundreds of years. If people are determined to risk their money on get rich quick schemes then no amount of legislation will protect them!
David Healy, London, UK
I recently put a car up for sale online. I had a number of overseas buyers interested. My initial thoughts were why would someone in Holland want to buy my car? So I checked online. I then read about scams involving fake cheques and a shipping agent. Say sell car for £,000 and need £2,000 to ship abroad. You get fake cheque for £8,000. The funds seem to clear (some loophole means they don't but banks give you the benefit of the doubt) so you send your car and the £2,000 to the agent. A couple of weeks later the cheque bounces and you are not very I happy. It did seem too good to be true, so I ignored them.
Andy Moorhouse, Newton Abbot, Devon
I get text messages sent to my phone sometimes, saying I have won X amount of money and in order to claim the price I have to call a number which charges £2 a min. How do these scam artists get away with it? Something has really got to be done as many people who struggle with money, get hurt by this.
Up until a year ago, my elderly mother was sending postal orders for various amounts of money to these swindlers. She didn't believe her children when they told her it was a scam. This was neither greed nor stupidity - she has Alzheimer's and is now in care. I am sure she is only one of many elderly pensioners who think they can help their families by winning some money.
Eileen King, London
I am still kicking myself about being persuaded to join a pyramid scheme at work - of course I lost the £100 I put in - I don't think I would have fallen for it if someone at work hadn't made £10,000 from the same scheme. Guess she was at the top of the pile. I certainly won't fall for anything like that again.
Anonymous, Oxford, UK
I get between five and 20 e-mails a day just offering me the chance to earn dollars - apparently all I have to do is give out my bank details and send them $10,000 and they'll turn it into millions. Until a real legislation is introduced to outlaw schemes like this that are obviously lies then the problem will still exist.
Stephen Mortimer, Reading, UK
I've never been caught because I'm neither stupid nor greedy. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. The only way to stop these is for people to stop being so materialistic and greedy, and realise you only get what you work for.
Jo, Manchester, UK
I would like to see all withheld numbers ringing my phone getting a message that I do not accept their call. Almost every day I get some taped message telling me I have won money and all I need to do is ring this £5/min phone number. How do these people get away with that anyway?
I have received numerous scam emails, mostly of the "please help me get all this wonderful money out of my country". Simple rule of thumb, if it seems too good to be true, it is!