Trading standards officers are warning people not to get conned at Christmas.
Hampshire County Council officials have highlighted 12 shopping and contract pitfalls in the festive season.
They include watching out for unsafe toys, fake charities, free online trials, loan tricksters, doorstep crime, cold callers selling commodities and computer cons.
The council’s trading standards department has issued a 12-point protection plan for residents.
1. Dangerous counterfeit Christmas gifts: The National Trading Standards Board Safety at Ports teams say unsafe toys and electrical goods, which fail to comply with UK safety laws, continue to enter the marketplace. These goods are not only dangerous and potential killers, they can damage the economy and fund crime.
2. Charitable donations: Christmas may be the time for giving, but the NTSB and trading standards advise consumers to double-check who exactly they are giving to. Consumers should be wary of vague statements on packaging such as ‘donations for work creation’ or ‘donations to poor children.’
3. Online free trials: New year’s resolutions often involve attempts to work off mince pies and lose weight. Scammers know this and have created pop-ups offering free trials on items like weight loss supplements while disguising contracts in amongst the fine print. After entering their card details to pay for the post and packaging, the scammers use these hidden contracts to regularly take sums of moneys from the victim’s account.
4. Loan scams: Christmas time can put a strain on any budget, and unscrupulous credit businesses are cashing in on people’s financial desperation. The NTSB’s National Scams Hub says many people have received unsolicited text messages or telephone calls from firms offering them an unsecured loan. Those who accepted were charged large, upfront fees for little or no service.
5. Doorstep crime: Bad weather is used by rogue traders to convince some residents that they need unnecessary and often substandard home improvements at extortionate prices. Consumers are advised not to deal with unsolicited and unexpected doorstep callers. Instead, local consumers should use a trusted trader who is either a member of the Hampshire County Council Trading Standards Buy With Confidence Scheme or a part of an approved codes scheme.
6. Commodities fraud: Cold callers pester large numbers of potential victims across the UK to offer alternative market investments. Plots of land, diamonds, rare earth products, wine investments and carbon credits sold at hugely inflated prices allow the criminals to make off with their victim’s savings before any suspicions are raised. By the time the victim realises the fraud, the company has vanished.
7. Computer scams: The National Scams Hub and trading standards are warning of this simple yet dangerous scam. The victim receives a bogus call from a computer company claiming that they had been alerted by the internet provider to a serious virus attack. The scammers tell the victim the only way the problem can be fixed is to buy a special computer programme. If the owner complies, they enter their personal and financial information on to a website only to find their bank account is emptied.
8. Council tax re-branding: In a current investigation being undertaken by the Trading Standards Scambusters Team from the North-West of England, it was discovered that less than 0.1% of claims submitted by companies claiming they can obtain council tax refunds are legitimate. The victim pays high, up-front fees to a company that does no work on their behalf. Householders can make their own application to the Valuation Office Agency themselves - at the cost of nothing.
9. Grant notices: Consumers are being warned of an email purporting to be from the Commonwealth Secretariat and HM Treasury telling them they qualify for a £1,000 grant to be paid directly into their bank accounts. This email is not an expression of yuletide goodwill, it is a scam that will put consumers at risk of fraudulent activity, and should be ignored.
10. Car clocking: Dodgy car dealers will do anything to move a motor - even adjusting the mileage on the clock to make it read fewer miles, which they use to bump up the price.
11. Security alarms: The National Scams Hub is warning consumers about a possible security alarm scam where consumers receive a cold call from a company offering to install security systems. The security system may be free or available at a nominal cost but the on-going maintenance cost high and there is a cancellation fee.
12. Vishing: Vishing has caught a lot of people out recently - consumers have already lost £7million to this scam, according to Financial Fraud Action UK. Scammers call victims pretending to be a bank, building society or similar official and attempt to get personal information. Consumers must remember that their bank or building society will never ask for details over the phone - they already have them.
A trading standards spokesman said: ‘Every year officers seize thousands of fake designer goods including health and beauty products, jewellery, clothing and accessories, handbags, camera and mobile phone batteries, watches, electrical items, boots, shoes and trainers as well as fake DVDs, music CDs, tobacco, cigarettes, alcohol and children’s toys.
‘These can offer a temptingly cheap alternative to buying from high street shops, but fake goods are often made from inferior materials, can be dangerous, and could result in injury or even death.
‘Counterfeit cosmetics and perfumes can often contain untested and harmful substances that may burn the skin or leave a nasty rash. Fake electrical items may seem like a bargain but they can be electrically unsafe and could overheat, explode or burn out quickly.
‘In Hampshire, Trading Standards officers regularly visit car boot sales and markets, and trawl the internet to protect consumers and legitimate traders across the county and crack down on the problem. Anyone found selling counterfeit goods could be arrested and may face prosecution as well the confiscation of the monetary proceeds of their criminal activity.
Ranging from car-clocking to fake charities to counterfeit goods, consumers need to be aware of the lengths unscrupulous traders will go to in order to cash in on festive season goodwill.
Councillor Roy Perry, Leader of Hampshire County Council and Executive Member for Policy and Resources said: ‘As the old saying goes, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
‘We can all help ourselves by being alert to the most common cons and help avoid disappointment, worry or worse. By raising awareness I hope more Hampshire residents will be able to deal with consumer problems more confidentally, even if it is just knowing who to call or where to look for consumer advice.
‘Anyone with a complaint about unfair or unsafe trading needs to call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 08454 04 05 06. This is our ‘front door’, and will provide immediate advice. Complaints about problem businesses or rogue traders requiring investigation are referred to the the trading standards service. We can then focus our proactive enforcement work on areas or traders causing the most difficulties.’
Anyone who has bought a product they think might be fake, or knows of someone selling counterfeit products, should report the seller to Hampshire County Council Trading Standards by calling the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.