Long distance scams … warning from Trading Standards as consumers fall victim to online fraudsters.

Highland Council’s Trading Standards Officers are alerting consumers after online scams lose two individuals a total of £20,000.

Gordon Robb, Trading Standards Manager explained: “I’m glad to say that most of the complaints and enquiries we receive about possible scams aren’t from people who have actually lost any money and we can usually act to prevent them and others from doing so. Recently however two cases have been reported to us that involved the loss of a total of £20,000. 

“One of the recent scams involved the attempted purchase via an online auction of a quad bike that turned out not to exist. Another involved a so-called ‘Romance Fraud’. Both of these scams used distance and a non-familiarity with the area as key elements in perpetrating the fraud.”

The fictitious quad bike was bought by a consumer from Wales who paid several thousand pounds by bank transfer to a seller he mistakenly believed to be in Caithness. The quad bike and the seller both subsequently disappeared with the address in Caithness proving to have no connection with either.  The Romance Fraud occurred after a long distance relationship by a Highland resident developed through an online dating site. A very significant amount of money was sent, intended to pay for a variety of travel and re-location expenses for a move to Scotland, the fraudsters using fake foreign travel websites to apparently validate the transactions.  The money was transferred in small amounts by Western Union and cannot now be traced. 

Gordon Robb continued: “In both cases the scammers posed as credible individuals based somewhere remote from the victims.  The real location of the quad bike scammer is suspected to be somewhere in West Africa.  We believe the ‘romance’ scammers are based in Ghana.

“Highland Trading Standards have taken swift action on the recent cases, contacting the ‘host’ internet companies involved and as a result, a total of three websites have been taken down, with others likely to follow shortly.

“We regularly get scam websites removed from the internet and this helps to minimise the harm done to consumers, but the scammers just move elsewhere and are soon back in business. Our best tactic in this fight however is to try and ensure consumers are alert to the existence of scams and how to avoid being defrauded online.  We work closely with the Police on these matters and the Government website ‘Action Fraud’ www.actionfraud.org.uk contains a wealth of information and warnings on these types of scam and the things to look out for.  Anyone considering any out of the normal online transaction should have a look at it and as well as heeding any warnings should report their suspicions to Action Fraud, which will ensure that this information is shared with the Police and other enforcement agencies.”

Among Trading Standards’ “Top tips” to avoid losing money online include:

Consumers can also receive free advice about scams and other consumer problems from the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 08454 040506.  Trading Standards can be contacted at 38 Harbour Road, Inverness IV1 1UF or by e-mail to trading.standards@highland.gov.uk.  The Action Fraud website address is www.actionfraud.org.uk

11 Mar 2013