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OFT exposes scammers 'tricks of the trade'

8th February 2008 Print
As part of Scams Awareness Month, the OFT is highlighting the top five 'tricks of the trade' used by scammers to con the UK public out of an estimated £3.5 billion a year.

Although there are many different types of scam delivered through the post, by email, over the phone, or in person, most use the same basic techniques to deceive over three million UK consumers every year.

The top five tricks identified by the OFT are:

1. Offering you the unattainable dream - scammers hook you by promising to fulfil your dreams and aspirations. You are told that you alone have been chosen because you are special, but in fact the same scam has been sent to thousands of other people.

2. Using official sounding names and job titles or referring to important sounding organisations to give a false impression that the scam comes from someone in a position of high authority who can be instantly trusted. This works by overcoming the initial gut feeling that something is not quite right.

3. Using fake deadlines to create a sense of urgency and a fear of missing out. You are told that if you don't reply immediately the opportunity will be gone forever, triggering an impulse to respond before you have the chance to think the offer through properly.

4. Using fake testimonials from satisfied customers to reinforce the impression that the scam offer is genuine - this exploits people's normal tendency to follow the crowd and helps to validate what is being offered.

5. Offering worthless 'money back guarantees' to convince you that you are dealing with a legitimate trader and that there is no risk in sending off your money.

In addition to the work being carried out during Scams Awareness Month, the OFT has commissioned Exeter University to carry out groundbreaking research into the psychological techniques used to make scams believable. The findings will be published later this year.

The OFT has also launched two new interactive scam guides designed to help people understand how scams attract consumers. The new guides, featuring a 'fake slimming mailing' and an 'advance fee/419 scam email', contain 'pop-up' text highlighting the tricks used by the scammers to convince people that the offers are genuine. The interactive guides can be found in the scams area of the Consumer Direct website.

Mike Haley, OFT Director of Consumer Protection said: 'Scammers are expert at exploiting people's hopes and fears. Anyone can be conned but by learning to recognise the scammer's tricks we can all avoid becoming their next victim'.