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Consumer advice information

Conned by competitions?

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

Some people are targeted by criminals intent on defrauding them out of their cash. There are many scams but some of the most common ones are fake lotteries, deceptive prize draws or sweepstakes, get-rich-quick schemes, investment scams, miracle cures and clairvoyant scams. Some claim you have won a 'prize' in a 'competition'

The criminals attempt to trick people with flashy official-looking letters and documents, persuasive phone calls, fake social media posts, internet pop ups and websites with the aim of persuading people to send a processing or administration fee, pay postal or insurance costs, make a premium rate phone call before the prize can be sent out or 'like and share' a post on social media. People may be asked to supply personal information, such as their bank details or credit card number, which could be used to steal their identity. It's important to remember that all scams are fraud and therefore a crime.

In all cases, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It's important to remember that all scams are fraud and therefore a crime.

What have I won?

You may receive a prize notification by email, post, phone, mobile text message or be enticed by a bogus website or a scratch card. These are designed to lure you into believing that you have won an expensive prize such as:

  • cash
  • expensive jewellery
  • must-have gadgets
  • high-end electrical goods
  • car
  • cruise
  • holiday

What do I do to claim my prize?

Whether the fraud is basic or sophisticated, it usually requires you to take some sort of action, such as paying an upfront fee, making a premium rate phone call (numbers beginning with 0870, 0871, 0872, 0873 or 09), attending a presentation, giving your credit/debit card details, providing personal information or agreeing for someone to call at your home.

I've been told I've won a prize - points to consider

  • did the communication - the call, letter or email - come out of the blue?
  • stop, think and be sceptical. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is
  • do not give personal or financial information to someone you do not know, however plausible they might sound and even if they claim to represent a business or organisation you have heard of or where an approach is personalised
  • genuine businesses or organisations will never telephone call you and ask you for personal or financial information
  • think about how much money you could lose responding to a potential scam. It's a risk not worth taking
  • if you receive a call or letter that you suspect is a scam, speak to family or friends or Citizens Advice consumer service and seek advice before sending any money or giving out any banking or credit card details
  • ask yourself how likely it is that you have been especially chosen for this offer. Thousands of other people will probably have received the same offer
  • ask your telecoms provider to set up call screening on your telephone so that you know who is calling your number before you decide to answer it. If the number is withheld it will be displayed as 'number withheld'
  • you can arrange with your telecoms provider to reject anonymous calls to your telephone. Or alternatively look to buy a call blocker
  • register with the Telephone Preference Service. This is a free service where you can register your preference not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing calls, although it may not stop overseas calls. You can also register on 0345 070 0707
  • be cautious and if in doubt (and on the phone) hang up
  • trading standards and the Royal Mail are working jointly to tackle scam mail in the postal system. If you or someone you know is receiving scam mail, you can report it to Royal Mail by sending it with a covering letter to Freepost SCAM MAIL, by emailing it to scam.mail@royalmail.com or by telephoning 03456 113 413. For more information visit the Royal Mail website
  • if you would like to opt out of receiving unaddressed door to door mail items, you can write to Freepost ROYAL MAIL CUSTOMER SERVICES or email optout@royalmail.com. For more information visit the Royal Mail website

In all cases, if it looks or sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Prize draw fraud - what to look out for

You may receive an email or a letter, which is cleverly worded and designed to make you believe that you have won cash, an expensive prize such as a car, jewellery, electrical goods expensive gadgets or a holiday or cruise abroad. Most prize draws are without doubt scams. You may just be entering into a sweepstake with no chance that you could win. These scam mailings can originate from the UK but most are sent from overseas. You may be persuaded into making an expensive premium rate phone call but you will not receive the prize you were promised. Some prize draw scams require you to pay an upfront processing fee (sometimes repeated requests for fees are made) to release the non-existent prize. The criminal may even ask you to keep the 'prize' a secret from your friends and family. Ultimately, you never see the prize and lose your money.

If you receive an email, a call or a text inviting you to ring a premium rate number to claim a prize do not make the call. It will usually turn out to be a long drawn-out automated message that will cost you money and in the end the prize will be worthless or, more likely, won't even exist.

You may be invited to 'like and share' a post on social media to be in with a chance of winning a holiday. The post could be fake and you may end up being tricked into giving out personal information or downloading malicious software. 

Lottery fraud - what to look out for

You may receive an official looking email or letter that claims that you have won a foreign lottery. You may be required to send a fee to release the cash or process the win. You may also be asked to supply personal information. The outcome is that you may receive further requests, accompanied by a believable reason, for payment of additional fees but you never see your winnings. Personal information you supply can be used by the criminals to steal your identity and your money. If you are duped by criminals, you may find that you are contacted by other criminals who see you as an easy target. You will not win a lottery you have never bought a ticket for!

I gave out my credit / debit card details - can I get my money back?

If you believe you have given your bank, building society, credit card or debit card details to a criminal trying to defraud you, contact your bank, building society or finance provider immediately and seek their advice. If you have been the victim of a fraud, they may be able to help.

If you paid for what turned out to be bogus goods or services by credit card and if the cost was more than £100 and less than £30,000, you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the card provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or a misrepresentation. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the card provider or both. This does not apply to charge cards or debit cards. In the case of fraud of you may have great difficulty recovering your money from the fraudster but you may be able to recover it from the finance provider. If you are dissatisfied with the credit card provider's response and the Consumer Credit Act 1974 applies then complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

If you used a debit card to buy what turned out to be bogus goods or services or if you used a credit card and the price of the goods or services was less that £100 (your rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply), you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract - goods are not delivered or the service was not carried out, for example - you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim.

If you use a debit card or a credit card to service an online payment system to buy goods or services, it is unlikely that you will be able to use either the Consumer Credit Act 1974 or the chargeback scheme to claim from your card provider in the event of a dispute. However, the online payment system may have its own dispute resolution process, which may assist you in getting your problem resolved.

If you have been mislead or tricked into agreeing to a continuous payment authority - where regular payments are taken from your credit or debit card - you have rights under the Payment Services Regulations 2009. Even if you have not asked the criminal for the payment to be cancelled, they refuse to do so or you cannot contact them, your bank or card provider must cancel the payment authority. If your bank or card provider does not act on your instruction to cancel, you are entitled to have any subsequent payments reimbursed, but you must report it as soon as possible or in any event within 13 months of the date the unauthorised payment was made.

I've been the victim of a fraud - what can I do?

If you think you have been targetetd by a scam, you can report it to Action Fraud. You can also report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.

If you are defrauded into phoning a premium rate number, replying to a premium rate text or paying for any other premium rate service, you can report it to the Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA), which regulates content, goods and services charged to a phone bill. The Phone-paid Services Authority works with you and the company to resolve the complaint or in the case of serious breaches, may investigate and then decide whether to take further action.

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because a trader used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress - the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices - your right to redress' guide gives more information. You can report complaints about unfair trading practices to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards. However, it may be difficult to take legal action against a fraudster.

If you think your details have been shared unlawfully you should report it to the Information Commissioner's Office, either via the website or on 0303 123 1113.

If you think your identity has been stolen please follow the guidance given on the Action Fraud website.

You can also seek advice from organisations such as Age UK or your local authority adult social care service.

Talk to your family and friends about the concerns you have.

Report any suspicious posts to the relevant social media company

How do I prevent someone I know from being defrauded?

There are signs that will alert you to the possibility that the person may be the victim of a fraud:

  • do they tell you they receive a lot of mail or have you seen a lot of mail in their home? Does the mail have obvious signs of prize draws and competitions?
  • do they receive unexplained and frequent phone calls?
  • are they secretive about the nature of the mail, the phone calls or the products in their home?
  • alternatively, do they tell you they have won the lottery or a big prize?

Often people refuse to accept that they are the victims of a fraud or are too embarrassed to admit it. Try to reassure the person that criminals are clever and frauds are commonplace but that there are simple steps they can take to protect themselves. Share with them and discuss the advice in the 'I've been told I've won a prize - points to consider' section above. It is also worth considering asking for further support from your local adult social care team, police or trading standards. People that are victims of fraud in their own homes are victims of financial abuse and enquiries should be made to see if that person needs any additional support. 

If you are having difficulty getting the person to understand and appreciate that they are the victim of a fraud, seek help from the organisations listed in the 'I've been the victim of a fraud - what can I do?' section above.

You may also want to consider doing the online training on the Friends Against Scams website. This will give you more information on how to help someone you know who is, or could be, being scammed.

Other types of scams

The  'Conned by dating, health, psychic or work scams'  and 'Conned by phone fraud' guides give further information.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: August 2017

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

© 2017 itsa Ltd.

The county council is not responsible for this information.