News item

Warning to UK consumers

Beware the EU scamsters!

The UK European Consumer Centre is issuing a warning to UK consumers to beware of EU scamsters, after complaints involving misleading practices more than tripled.

The advice comes as the Office of Fair Trading revealed - during Scams Awareness Month - that around three million UK consumers lose a total of £3.5 billion to scams every year.

UK ECC regularly receives complaints from UK consumers concerned about scams involving European traders. Scams can take a number of forms and frequently involve the internet. Areas include lotteries, prize draws, investment schemes and the secondary ticket market.

Complaints where misleading practices was the uppermost element rose more than three-fold - by 340% - in 2009 (compared to 2008), with the UK ECC receiving 501 complaints involving misleading practices in 2009 and 147 in 2008.

Problems involving scams may also span a range of areas including recreational and cultural services, car rentals, overseas car purchases, holiday clubs and timeshares categories.

Jed Mayatt, UK European Consumer Centre Manager, said:  "If a complaint is a serious, out-and-out scam, we can refer it to the Office of Fair Trading or the Serious Fraud Office. But there are a number of instances where we can give advice and support. These include the secondary ticket market, holiday clubs and timeshares and overseas car purchases.

"We're sure that consumers understand that scams do not just emanate from within the UK – that scamsters are prevalent from within the EU too. But it's important for them to know that misleading practices appear to be on the increase. They should be aware of the warning signs."

The UK ECC has produced a booklet - What you should know about SCAMS across the EU - which is available from its website

Areas where the UK ECC can give advice and support include:

* The secondary ticket market - where tickets are not allocated by event organisers or by other recognised primary ticket houses, normally recommended by the venue or organiser – is much more of a problem for ticket scams than the primary ticket market. This is largely because secondary ticket sellers tend to specialise in 'sold-out' events. The countries which UK consumers complain about most frequently include Hungary, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Cyprus. We also receive complaints from overseas consumers about UK traders.

Jed said: "Problems tend to manifest themselves in a variety of ways, frequently involving an online aspect. Consumers often think they are buying a ticket – usually online – which fails to materialise. This is clearly a ticket scam. The scammers are then impossible to contact."

The UK ECC received more than 200 complaints and enquiries in 2009 from UK consumers relating to EU traders under the 'recreational and cultural services' category, which includes ticket problems.

* The UK ECC also received more than 2,100 complaints and enquiries about timeshare and related/similar products in 2009, covering all nature of complaints about holiday clubs and timeshares, including scams. The area most hit for discount holiday club complaints is Spain (including the Canary Islands) with an increase in this type of complaint about Malta and Cyprus. Other countries are also affected.

Jed said: "A typical example would be that a consumer may get a phone call at home or a scratch card is thrust into your hand whilst abroad and you're told you've won a 'free' holiday. To get the 'free' holiday, you may have to pay for extras such as flights and other add-ons that make it more expensive than if you'd booked it yourself. You may have to attend a six-hour presentation about a holiday club, somewhere abroad – somewhere you don't want to go, at a time which doesn't suit you."

* There have been more than 300 complaints and enquiries about car rentals to the UK European Consumer Centre in 2009, including scams. Countries involved can include Spain, Italy and Ireland, although other countries can be involved.

Jed said: "Our general advice to consumers hiring cars abroad is, where possible, return the car to someone in the office, get them to check the car and sign it off as in good condition. If you have to leave the car, take some photos – showing that it was returned in good condition."

* Another area for scams is overseas car purchases – there have been more than 120 complaints and enquiries about car purchases. You may find a car for sale - perhaps via the internet - and contact the seller, who says the car is in another country. Although there can be many plausible reasons for the car being in a different country - eg the seller has just moved – there may be a scam involved. The seller may suggest that you use a safe shipping company to hold the money until you receive the goods and are happy with them. The main problem is that the goods are unlikely to arrive and the so-called shipping companies may not be real companies.

Jed said: "Things to look out for here are 'flashy' websites for the shipping company, everything to do with the sale being concluded by email, and payment only by a money transfer service or bank transfer."

The UK ECC provides advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK and will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint.

Consumers can make contact with the UK European Consumer Centre via the website – – or by phone on 08456 04 05 03 weekdays between 10am and 3pm.

UK ECC is co-funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and the European Commission.

The Trading Standards Institute hosts the UK ECC service at its head office.