Each year scams cost three million UK consumers £3.5 billion and recent research from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) shows that email is now the most common scam approach – 73% of adults have received a scam email in the past year.
Announcing the formation of a new specialist cyber enforcement team and extra funding for Trading Standards, Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan said:
“The internet is rapidly transforming the way we shop. It presents massive opportunities for consumers, but unfortunately it also harbours fraudsters who can leave consumers upset and out of pocket.
“So as they get more sophisticated, we need to stay one step ahead. Our investment will help the OFT and Trading Standards to put in place the new specialist teams, training and technology required to take the fight to these criminals.”
- OFT’s team has already set up a fully equipped laboratory with specialist equipment and is being trained by an international expert. This new functionality adds to the OFT’s capability across all of its enforcement work from cartels to consumer protection cases; and
- new highly trained trading standards enforcers with specialist equipment will also be placed in every region of England and in Scotland and Wales.
Online scams the teams will focus on include:
- fake products and traders who try to hide their identity to avoid giving consumer redress;
- ticket scams where tickets sold for concerts, festivals, football games and other events are either counterfeit or non-existent; and
- scam websites purporting to sell goods that dupe consumers into making what appear to be bargain purchases, but consumers receive either nothing at all or counterfeit products.
Heather Clayton, OFT Senior Director, said:
“Online consumer protection is a key priority for the OFT. The enforcement team will be looking at the activities of a wide range of commercial websites and taking action in cases where consumers’ rights are being abused.
“Ultimately, giving the public even greater confidence to shop online is what drives the activities of our enforcement team.
TSI’s chief executive Ron Gainsford said:
“I am delighted to see this investment in trading standards. The profession has invaluable skills and experience fighting scams in the non-virtual world that will now be put to excellent use in the cyber teams.
“We want to see shoppers to be able to be as confident online, shopping cross border in the EU, as they are in bricks and mortar shops – there is a real benefit for businesses and consumers alike to be unlocked.
“These specialist teams will help us be a modern regulatory service that can handle the increasingly complex threats and demands of the online market, which is fundamental to consumer and business protection, and renewed prosperity.”
The OFT will co-ordinate which enforcer is best placed to take action on a particular issue and will focus on the most serious cyber scams. Cases will continue to be passed to the Police, Serious and Organised Crime Agency and Companies Investigations Branch when appropriate.
Consumers who suspect they are the victim of an online scam should contact Consumer Direct on 08454 040506 or visit www.consumerdirect.gov.uk . Consumer Direct can provide advice and pass on complaints and information to Trading Standards and the OFT.
Notes to editors
1. The Government’s Digital Britain Report was published on 16 June 2009. The Report highlighted the need to ensure consumers are protected and confident when shopping online.
2. Last July the Government’s Consumer White Paper announced a range of actions designed to give consumers a better deal. It set out plans to: establish a new internet enforcement team; develop a long-term national strategy to further improve the co-ordination between the OFT, Trading Standards and other enforcement agencies such as the Police; and set up a new easy to use complaints register for online scams. The strategy and register will both be in place by the end of 2010.
3. The Office of Fair Trading estimates that around 3 million UK consumers lose a total of £3.5billion each year.
4. Recognising the challenges of online crime the Government has set up the National Fraud Authority, and through the City of London Police has established the National Fraud Reporting Centre (NFRC) and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau to tackle the most serious and harmful fraud, including mass marketed fraud. The Government has also launched the Police Central eCrime Unit within the Metropolitan Police to tackle large scale internet crime, including internet –enabled fraud.
5. The East of England Trading Standards Association (EETSA) will manage the coordination of this work for Trading Standards, on behalf of BIS, together with the Scambusters, East of England Trading Standards Association, London Trading Standards Association & Trading Standards South East Ltd (SELT).
Notes to editors
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is building a dynamic and competitive UK economy by: creating the conditions for business success; promoting innovation, enterprise and science; and giving everyone the skills and opportunities to succeed. To achieve this it will foster world-class universities and promote an open global economy. BIS - Investing in our future.
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