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Government warns against techno scams

Email, fax and mobile phone cons targeted by public awareness campaign

The government is warning consumers to be wary of email, fax and mobile phone scams that could leave them out of pocket. At the launch of National Consumer week today, consumer affairs minister Melanie Johnson told people to be on their guard when receiving unsolicited messages on their phones or computers.

"We have warned the public about the danger of postal scams, such as bogus prize draws and competitions. But people also need to bear the same warnings in mind if they use mobile phones, fax machines and email", Johnson explained.

There have been several mobile phone and fax-based scams recently, including one which sent a text to your phone saying "I fancy you" and giving a number to call to find out who the sender was. But the number provided was premium rate. This sort of con is particularly worrying as it is clearly aimed at younger people who use mobile phones.

Another swindle involved asking hotels to fax brochures to a potential customer, but once again the number provided was premium rate. Other cons involve offering prizes and free holidays to encourage people to call a premium rate number in order to claim.

The government hopes publicising such scams will raise awareness and encourage consumers to report cons so perpetrators can be caught.

(the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards for Telephone Information Services) offers the following guidelines to help us spot likely scams.

It outlines several ways to identify a possible scam:
The approach is unsolicited
There is only a short time to claim the prize or reward
You are asked to send a 'processing' or 'management' fee to claim your prize
You are asked to buy goods to get your prize
You are asked to call a premium rate line
The promotion is sent from overseas
You are asked to send money out of the country, particularly to the Netherlands or Canada
Prizes are quoted in foreign currency
You are asked to provide credit card or bank details
You are asked to recruit others for the scheme to claim your prize.

Icstis offers more advice to help consumers, telling them to watch out for premium rate numbers which often start with 090. Premium rate reverse bill text messages usually contain a short four or five digit code number to reply to. Icstis says you should always read the terms and conditions of any promotion before taking part and don't reply if you have any doubt about its legitimacy.

To keep your phone and fax safe you can bar premium rate calls and unsolicited commercial faxes. You can also stop unwanted text messages by registering with Icstis' telephone preference service on its website.

More tips on how to spot and avoid scams can be found on www.ripofftipoff.net or you can call 020 7215 5000.

If you think you have been a victim of a scam, advice on what to do about it can be found here.

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