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142/09 18 December 2009
The OFT and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) are warning the public to be on their guard against a new Jamaican-based lottery scam which has already seen some UK residents lose thousands of pounds each.
Fraudulent telemarketers based in Jamaica are making unsolicited phone calls to consumers telling them they have won a sum of up to £2.5 million, in a lottery or sweepstake. The fraudsters often pretend to be lawyers, bank officials, customs officers or lottery representatives to try and convince consumers that their prize is genuine. However, to 'release' their winnings, victims are told they must send money to pay for taxes, processing fees, insurance or customs duties. Victims receive repeated calls for further money, and in some cases have suffered threats of violence, arrest and removal to Jamaica if they do not pay up.
The fraudsters have pressurised some elderly victims into sending off their entire life savings. The victim's money ends up in the hands of organised gangs and helps to fund other serious crime in Jamaica.
The fraudsters have also targeted consumers in other countries such as the United States where victims are estimated to have lost $30 million. In response, SOCA and the OFT are working with international law enforcement partners to tackle this and other types of mass marketed fraud.
Heather Clayton, OFT Senior Director, said:
'We know that Jamaican-based lottery fraudsters have actively targeted US consumers in the past but we are now beginning to see this emerge as a problem in the UK. What is despicable is that some victims have been threatened with violence to coerce them into handing over their life savings. A genuine lottery would never ask someone to pay taxes, insurance or any other fee before receiving their 'winnings'.'
Paul Evans, Director of Intervention at SOCA, said:
'There is no doubt that there are links between mass marketing fraud and other serious organised criminality, including drugs importation and threats of violence. Falling victim to mass marketing frauds is not something people bring on themselves. They are deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by organised criminal groups. The potential harm inflicted is not just financial, but physical and psychological. Law enforcement, advice groups, and the public all have a part to play in preventing these crimes.'
People needing advice on how to avoid scams can visit the Consumer Direct website at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk or call the helpline on 08454 04 05 06.
For more information on the campaign please contact the team at 3 Monkeys Communications on OFT@3-monkeys.co.uk or call 020 7009 3100.
1. The OFT works closely with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the police, local authority Trading Standards Services and international counterparts to tackle lottery and sweepstake scams.
2. The OFT, Serious Organised Crime Agency and National Fraud Authority are developing a National Strategy for tackling mass marketed fraud, in partnership with a wide range of other enforcement, consumer and industry bodies. This strategy forms part of the Government's wider National Fraud Strategy which was launched in April 2009.
3. OFT research carried out in 2006 estimated that 3.2 million adults in the UK (around one in 15 people) collectively lose around £3.5 billion to mass marketed scams each year, with £260 million lost to foreign lottery scams alone. This equates to about £70 per annum for each adult living in the UK. About half the adult population is likely to have been targeted by a scam.
4. Consumer Direct is a telephone and online consumer advice service funded by government and managed by the Office of Fair Trading. It offers consumers clear, practical and impartial advice and information.
5. The Serious Organised Crime Agency has a remit to reduce the harm caused to the UK by serious organised crime. In tackling mass marketing fraud it focuses on 'upstream' activity, working closely with overseas partners, where many frauds originate, to frustrate opportunities and make it harder for criminals to operate.
On 26 January 2009, Warwickshire Police were contacted by an extremely distressed 79-year old woman from the Midlands who had received a series of phone calls from someone in Jamaica to say that she had won £2.5 million in the lottery. The caller told her that to receive her winnings she would need to pay the tax in advance. The woman has on six separate occasions paid money to the value of £3,150, her life savings, via wire transfer, to a person in Jamaica. The woman finally decided to call police after the caller told her that Jamaican police would be arresting her and deporting her to Jamaica and she would need a solicitor. Officers have reassured the woman and told her not to send any more money. Enquiries are ongoing.
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