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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 March, 2004, 10:33 GMT
Scam watch
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine

If that text, phone call or e-mail promising prizes sounds too good to be true, chances are that it is. We want to hear about the latest scams doing the rounds.

Woman on a beach
Free holiday? Dream on
"Congratulations! You have won either 1,000 in cash or a free four-star break with Holiday Options," says the recorded voice on the other end of the line, a cold call which piques my interest. I'm patched through to a call centre, my suspicions - and, to be honest, my hopes - raised.

The friendly woman who answers offers her congratulations, and gives me a premium rate number to call to claim my prize.

"Calls cost 1.50 a minute and will last no more than seven minutes. If you are over 18, you will definitely receive your prize," she assures me.

Before raking up a hefty phone bill for a prize which may not arrive, I check the Holiday Options website. It is indeed a hoax - the company warns of a telephone scam fraudulently offering cash and free holidays in its name.

Complaints about such scams have shot up in the past couple of years, according to the Independent Committee for Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS).

Call now and win!

While texts which direct consumers to premium rate line to claim a bogus prize have been around for about a year, a more recent ploy is the missed call scam.

Mobile phone
Don't call that 090 number
Last week, the telecoms watchdog shut down two firms which rang mobiles once, creating a missed call message. Those who rang back were directed to a premium rate number to claim a windfall which never arrived.

"These scams are illegal," says spokesman Rob Dwight. "These premium rate lines are set up just to fleece consumers."

Of the 70 networks that give out 090 numbers in the UK, a handful are prepared to allocate numbers to dubious firms. Mr Dwight advises ignoring any unsolicited call or message which points the way to a 090 number, and reporting it to the ICSTIS so they can track down the company responsible.

"No reputable company promotes its premium rate numbers in this way. And because it's unsolicited, these companies are in breach of the Data Protection Act - you have to give permission for your contact details to be used in this way."

We're compiling a catalogue of cheeky text, e-mail or phone call scams that are doing the rounds. Let us know ones you've come across, using the form below.

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Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published.




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