July is Scams Awareness Month

13 Jul 2016

It is estimated that each year hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland are targeted by scammers, yet it is believed that only around 5% of scams are reported. This could be because scams are not always noticeable. Furthermore, there is often a sense of helplessness as victims consider it will be difficult to find the scammer, or it is not worth it because they feel the amount in question was not high enough to justify taking it further. They simply cut their losses and move on. Sadly, for many, the “shame” of having allowed oneself to be scammed is a major contributing factor to so many scams going unreported. However we should be clear; it is not your fault if you have been scammed. An inclination to trust people is a positive quality, not something to be embarrassed about. Besides, scamming happens through a vicious psychological game which can be very difficult to detect. 

 

Scamming costs people in Scotland around £400 million a year, which is likely to be a conservative estimate, given the low level of reporting. On occasion, people have lost their life savings to scammers. However, the consequences can go much deeper than that. People experience emotional trauma, feel violated and lose faith in others because of it.

 

I have always been particularly perturbed by the fact that many scams are carried out within the presumed safety of people's own homes. Not every doorstep caller is out to scam people and doorstep calling in itself is not illegal; nevertheless, in order to protect consumers it is regulated by Consumer Law. Local Authorities do not have the authority to ban doorstep calling. What they are able to do is provide information and issue window stickers and posters that deter cold callers from knocking on your door. North Ayrshire Council issues free “No Cold Calling” posters on request, which you can stick to your front door. Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, it may be a criminal offence for a trader to ignore such a sign. Traders involved in doorstep crime can be reported to North Ayrshire Trading Standards on 01294 310100 or with an email to:

 

tradingstandards@north-ayrshire.gov.uk .

 

As so many people know to their cost, scammers also operate by telephone, online and post. Who hasn't had an announcement they have won a fortune popping up on their computer screen for a prize draw they never entered, or received a phone call announcing they were entitled to compensation following a road accident they never had? There are even scammers who pretend to fall in love, to rob vulnerable people of their savings. Temptation is offered in every possible form. 

 

To help raise awareness of scamming, Citizens Advice Scotland is providing expert guidance to people in learning how to identify and avoid becoming victims of scam activity. 

 

Throughout July, Citizens Advice Scotland will provide information on a different form of scamming each week. For further details, please visit nacasadvice.org.uk or contact North Ayrshire Citizens Advice on 01294 467 848.

 

You may have fallen victim to a scam yourself. If so, I’m sure your biggest wish is that you had known that what you were being offered was a scam. This is why awareness is key; to fight these despicable practices. The more people are informed, the more likely people are to recognise a scam in advance and hang up the phone, tear up the letter, delete that email or shut the door. Scamming will always be with us. What we need to do is to be alert to it and try to ensure we don’t fall victim. 
 

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