If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
That’s the message from the Office of Fair Trading, whose officers deal with many calls from people who fear they might become a victim of conmen.
Every year the OFT receives hundreds of telephone calls and visits from consumers and businesses 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 through an investment scheme or by helping a victim of a foreign government get their hard-earned money out of that foreign land.
Last week, hundreds of people in the Isle of Man received a text message suggesting they had won a million euros on the Spanish lottery.
An OFT spokesman said: ‘Although many of us recognise that these contacts are suspicious some people still fail to realise that they may be dishonest attempts to part them from their money.
‘Some of these are easily recognisable as scams but many look legitimate and are very convincing.
‘Fraudsters over the years have realised that the more professional and sophisticated they make their forms of contact the more people will be drawn in by them.’
The OFT’s advice is to look out for these warning signs:
Did the offer come ‘out of the blue’, i.e. was it unexpected?
Do you have to respond at once with such a tight deadline that you don’t have time to give it any thought or check out the details of the offer?
Do you have to make a purchase to win a prize?
Do you have to ring a premium rate telephone number?
Do you have to give your bank or credit card details?
Is the business reluctant to give an address or contact details?
Are you being asked to keep it confidential?
Does it look too good to be true?
There are things you can do to protect yourself.
The Office of Fair Trading has produced a leaflet giving tips on how not to become a victim of a scam and the Office’s consumer advisers advise consumers who receive what they think is a scam contact.
Copies of the leaflet can be obtained from the Office in Lord Street, Douglas, from its website or by telephoning 686500.
This number will also put you in touch with the consumer advisers.
The OFT spokesman added: ‘If you think or have been advised that the offer is a potential scam, do not take up the offer just to stop being bombarded by contacts - scammers will often try to wear their victims down by doing this.
‘In some cases action can be taken to prevent this happening but it is often not possible as letters, telephone calls, etc in many cases originate from distant jurisdictions such as Australia and North America.
‘You should also be aware that scammers an easily switch to a different method of contact or use the same method of contact using different business names, addresses, telephone/text/fax numbers or email addresses.’