Beware of fraudster letters, warns OFT

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SCAM letters have been mailed to a number of island residents in an attempt to con money out of them.

A spokesman for the Isle of Man Office of Fair Trading said the letters represent a departure from similar emails which people have become wise to.

Recent statistics from the UK found almost half of the known scams tended to target the over 55 age group.

One recipient in Laxey who did not wish to be named received two letters in the space of a few days asking him to receive money from a bank account in Hong Kong.

Detective Sergeant Mike Venables of the island’s financial crime unit said many scammers had reverted to using the postal service.

‘If communications are sent as emails we can alert the service provider and get the account closed down,’ he said. ‘New accounts might be blocked. Police knowledge in dealing with this is greater than it was a few years ago.’

He said many letters offered money which it transpired was payable subject to a release fee.

‘This is typically £1,500 to £2,000 to be sent by same day transfer. If people fall for it and pay up, the fraudster comes back for more. The victim is then past the point of no return and they keep sending extra payments. Typical losses are in the region of £20,000.

‘Over the past 18 months we have had lots of letters sent out and I don’t very often see the same one twice.’

Putting details of a suspected scam letter through Google can often reveal some interesting points, DS Venables revealed.

‘These details appear on various sites, some linked to the Netherlands,’ he said.

The somewhat unconvincing name on the letter – Bailey Bong – he said was very well known to the police.

‘He has been pestering Isle of Man residents for well over a year now, but not from the Hong Kong jurisdiction as before. The telephone number traces back to an organisation calling itself Wong and Co which according to the web purports to be legal practitioners in Hong Kong.’

Telephone numbers are usually to pay-as-you-go mobiles rather than a fixed land line.

The best advice to anyone receiving any kind of scam, be it over the telephone, email or by letter, is not to engage with them at all, he said.

‘Replace the receiver without speaking to them, ignore letters and don’t be tempted to respond to an email because that will tell them that it is a live email address and they will bombard you with spam [unsolicited emails],’ he said.

An OFT spokesman said: ‘Every year the Office of Fair Trading receives hundreds of calls from consumers who have received unexpected letters, telephone calls, faxes, texts or emails advising them that they have won a prize or a lottery, or offering them an opportunity to make some easy money.’

Over the past month the UK OFT has run a publicity campaign in conjunction with Age UK to alert old people to the pitfalls of such scams.

In the Isle of Man, the OFT has also offered some tips.

Any communications which come unexpectedly, with a tight deadline to respond, using a premium rate telephone number and offering prize money should set alarm bells ringing.

Similarly anything asking for bank or credit card details, or which asks recipients to keep the offer confidential, should be avoided.

The OFT has further warned people against con men who try to sell shares over the telephone.

An advice leaflet can be obtained from the OFT office in Lord Street, Douglas, or from its website or by telephoning 686500.

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