Trading standards - news

It's a scam

Millions of pounds are lost to mandate fraud every month not just to consumers but businesses too.

What is a mandate fraud?

  • Fraudsters approach you via email, letter or phone call impersonating a familiar contact such as a supplier, bank or a magazine subscription.
  • The fraudster will ask you to change the sort code and account number of a usual/familiar payment or as a one off payment.
  • The payment goes through to an account controlled by the fraudster and the liability of the financial loss will normally fall with your company.

How do I avoid it?

  • Always verify changes to financial arrangements with the person or organisation directly, using known contacts wherever possible.
  • Don’t leave things like bills lying around for others to look at and record details of standing orders and direct debits.
  • If you are concerned about the source of a call, ask the caller to give you a main switchboard number for you to be routed back to them. Alternatively, hang up and call them back using established contact details you have on file.
  • Check your bank statements carefully and report anything suspicious to your financial institution

How do I report it?

Report to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk or telephone 0300 123 2040.

Hoverboards

One of the highest selling presents this Christmas was the hoverboard.

For several months Trading Standards across the country have been checking and testing these gadgets.

Nationally, Trading Standards have seized 32,000 of the 38,000 (84%) hoverboards examined since October. Mostly this was for illegal electrical components that could explode or catch fire.

Normally, a sensible precaution would be to buy only from established retailers and to avoid the internet. But even some national retailers have been caught out with potentially unsafe products.

Incorrect plugs, fake batteries and counterfeit fuses are but some of the problems with these new toys. Fires have been caused across the country already; including London, Buckinghamshire and Kent.

Top safety tips:

  • don't buy a hoverboard from a seller that doesn't have its contact details available
  • don't charge the board overnight or when you are not able to observe it
  • charge and store in a dry, open area away from anything that can catch fire
  • let the device cool down for an hour after use before you charge it
  • don't charge the device up and then put it back in its box (for example, if you are planning on giving it to somebody)
  • look for the Certification mark (CE) mark

If you have any concerns about your product or if it is missing instructions or a CE mark you can:

  • contact the local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) on 0844 499 4107
  • or to see if they have recalled the product, speak to the seller you purchased the product from 

12 cons of Christmas

This holiday season Bracknell Trading Standards are warning consumers to watch out for 12 shopping and contract scams.

Ranging from car-clocking to fake charities to counterfeit goods, consumers need to be aware of the length unscrupulous traders will go to in order to cash in on holiday goodwill. To protect your family and your finances this holiday season, beware of the following scams:

  1. Dangerous counterfeit Christmas gifts
  2. Charitable donations – check who you are giving to
  3. Online free trials – beware of providing bank details
  4. Loan scams - ignore any unsolicited text messages or telephone calls from firms offering an unsecured loan
  5. Doorstep crime – use approved traders to avoid the rogues
  6. Commodities fraud
  7. Computer scams
  8. Council tax re-branding – consumers can check this for free through the Valuation Office Agency
  9. Grant notices - notices that appear to be from places such as the Commonwealth Secretariat or HM Treasury saying you are eligible for a grant and asking for your bank details
  10. Car clocking - where the mileage of a car has been changed to show it's done less mileage than it actually has
  11. Security alarms – potential free installation but high maintenance costs
  12. Vishing - scammers call victims pretending to be a bank, building society or similar official and attempt to get personal information

Bracknell Trading Standards encourages all consumers to check they know who they are buying from before getting gifts or committing to contracts.

If something sounds too good to be true than it usually is. If something is not quite right or you are being pressured into buying goods or services you don't need, then they should report this to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Avoid the fakes this Christmas

With Christmas spending in the UK set to reaching ever higher figures, criminals are on the prowl to take their share of the profits, cashing in on consumers looking for good deals to try and ease the financial strain.

While a cheap deal on the must-have gift may seem appealing in the moment, it can have frightening consequences:

  • counterfeit make-up can contain lead, copper and mercury and can cause swelling, rashes and poisoning - some products have even been found to contain rat droppings, human urine and arsenic
  • fake alcohol can contain methanol, antifreeze and fuel, causing nausea, stomach pains, kidney or liver problems, coma or death - nearly 2,500 litres of fake wine and spirits were seized in pre-Christmas raids last year some containing cleaning fluids - in one country 42,000 people are killed annually by fake vodka alone
  • unofficial children’s merchandise such as toys and dressing-up clothes could pose numerous hazards with small loose parts, long cords and materials that are highly flammable
  • poor quality and missing components in fake electrical goods and chargers can lead to electric shocks, fires and explosions

The counterfeiting operations mean the product is likely to be a poor quality and not subject to the same rigorous safety tests as genuine items often causing life threatening situations.

It is understandable that cheaper products can always be tempting, but if it turns out to be counterfeit or substandard, then it could be putting you or loved ones at risk. With half of all house fires caused by faulty electrical goods, buying a knock-off product can be a cost too high to pay.

False tax rebate

With Christmas looming everyone is more money conscious and scammers are well aware of this and keen to take advantage.

Local residents have recently received texts claiming to be from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and providing tax credit refunds. These messages often look legitimate but can be devastating if you click on the links provided. These links take you to pages where you will need to complete your bank details for identity ‘confirmation’ or ‘verification’ purposes before they will pay the fictitious sum.

Once the scammers have received your information, the bogus site will redirect to the real HMRC pages creating the impression it is authentic. Many victims have no idea that they have been conned until alerted by their banks.

HMRC will never send a tax rebate or refund by email or text, or ask you to disclose personal or payment information. For further information please visit HMRC's Phishing emails and bogus contact page.

Trading standards urge those receiving these emails to contact your accountant or HMRC directly on 0300 200 3300 quoting either your Unique Taxpayer Reference Number or NI number immediately to check your tax position.

Peoples' Postcode Lottery

Recent scam activity in the borough has included the “Peoples Postcode Lottery” on its list of prize draws, sweepstakes and foreign lottery scams.

Prize draws, sweepstakes and foreign lottery scams say you have won a prize and that all you need to do is pay an 'administration' or ‘release’ fee. However you will end up with nothing or a cheap item that's worth less than the fee. The scam may also ask you to:

  • call a premium-rate phone number (beginning 090) - you will hear a message that tricks you into staying on the phone for a long time
  • provide personal or financial information for 'identification' which they will use this to steal your money

A copy of the letter received in Bracknell can be seen below. The local resident who received the letter did not provide any personal details or pay any money.

The real People's Postcode Lottery says it will not under any circumstances request a payment to receive any prize. If you get an offer for a lottery or competition you have not entered, always ignore it.

Personally addressed junk mail can be reduced by contacting the Mailing Preference Service.

If you receive such a letter please do not respond but instead contact the council's trading standards service on 01344 352000.

Charging for single use carrier bags

From 5 October 2015 all retailers in England with 250 or more employees who sell goods in England or deliver goods to England are required to charge 5p per single use carrier bag which is:

  • unused - it’s new and has not been used for sold goods to be taken away or delivered
  • made of plastic and 70 microns thick or less (paper bags are exempt)
  • has handles, an opening and isn’t sealed

Some exemptions apply including bags used for fresh meat and fish, returnable multiple reuse bags (bags for life) and bags used in a service where no sale takes place (such as dry cleaning).

The aim of the change is to reduce the number of single use bags and to get consumers to reuse more bags. Similar schemes are running in Wales and Scotland. Wales alone saw a reduction in plastic bag consumption of 79 per cent in the first 3 years.

It is expected that businesses will donate all proceeds from these bags to good causes, particularly environmental causes and report on this annually, hopefully raising millions of pounds for charity.

Online scam warning

Thames Valley Police are warning of a current online scam aimed at consumers.

Fraudsters have created a high specification website template advertising flat screen televisions for sale which are below market value and do not exist. Payment is being requested via bank transfer and will offer no protection to the consumer when the television does not arrive.

Protect yourself:

  • payments made via bank transfer are not protected should you not receive the item.
  • always make payment via a credit card or PayPal where you have some avenue of recompense should you not receive your product.
  • conduct some online research on the website; company name and business address to identify any poor feedback or irregularities.
  • check the authenticity of websites before making any purchases. A ”whois” search on the website will identify when the website has been created, so be wary of newly formed domains. This search can be conducted using the following website who.is.
  • if the item advertised seems too good to be true, it probably is

If you believe that you have been a victim of fraud you can report it online at Action fraud or by telephone on 0300 123 2040.

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