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INVESTIGATE: Let's all fight the pounds 3.5bn fraudsters.

Byline: Penman & Sommerlad

WE spend our lives exposing scams, but even we were shocked by this.

One of the most extensive surveys ever undertaken shows that the British public lose a staggering pounds 3.5billion to fraudsters every year.

That equates to about pounds 70 per year for each adult living in the UK.

According to the Office of Fair Trading research, top of the league of frauds are bogus holiday clubs - like timeshare but worse - which net around pounds 1.2billion annually.

Next are investment scams, which take pounds 490million from unwitting consumers.

Just this month we revealed how spam email urged you to invest in an apparently brilliant company called American Unity Investments Inc. At the time the shares were 77 cents - now they're 23 cents and the only people who'll have made any money are the crooks who sent the emails.

Pyramid scams and get-rich-quick frauds pull in pounds 420 million a year from victims while fake foreign lotteries take pounds 260 million.

Nearly a third of victims said they fell for a scam because of the legitimate appearance of the marketing.

Although men and women were equally likely to be victims, women are more likely to fall victim to bogus miracle health scams, clairvoyant junk mail and job opportunity cons.

Men are more likely to fall for investment and property scams.

While older consumers were most commonly targeted, the average age of victims was 35-44 years old.

More than one million people were conned into calling a premium-rate phone number. Pyramid and chain letter scams claimed 480,000 victims and 380,000 people fell for prize draw scams.

The highest average loss per victim was pounds 5,660 for investment scams, followed by pounds 5,000 for African-based advance fee scams.

Typical of these was the "lottery win" letter which claimed to come from the Red Cross but was nothing to do with the charity.

Last month we showed how the crooks behind this wanted a pounds 650 fee after insisting you'd won pounds 500,000.

Mike Haley, who leads the OFT's Scambusters team said: "This research shows for the first time the full extent of damage done to individuals and to the wider UK economy by manipulative and malicious scams.

Young and old, and people from all backgrounds are taken in by increasingly sophisticated scams."

A victim has a 30 per cent chance of falling for another scam within 12 months of first being caught out, because their personal details are added to a "suckers list", which is then sold to other scammers.

Thousands are too embarrassed to tell anyone they've been conned. But please, if you are ripped off, tell the police, tell trading standards, tell us.

And help us shut them down.

Women fall for..

Bogus miracle health cures and junk mail from psychics

Men fall for..

Property scams and investment cons that promise a fast profit
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 21, 2006
Words:484
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