ECC Ireland takes a look at some common scams for Fraud Prevention Month
Scams have always been around in some form or other. They have made many promises over the years, drained many wallets, and in some cases severely affected victims’ lives. Unfortunately, it looks like scams and other fraudulent activity will always be around and indeed has adapted to take advantage of the rise of internet and increasing popularity of social media.
This month is International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network’s (ICPEN) Fraud Prevention Month. To help raise awareness, this month’s eBulletin looks at some of the most common scams that ECC Ireland comes across. We will also list some of the scams that were highlighted during 2016. Hopefully, this will help you avoid being caught out.
The European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) also published this month its report examining the impact of counterfeiting on online consumer rights in Europe along with advice on ways to spot counterfeit goods online.
This month’s consumer query looks at offers which result in consumers getting locked into mobile phone competition subscriptions.
To find out more read on below or download your free copy of ECC Ireland’s March 2017 eBulletin.
Fraud Prevention Month – watch out, scammers about!
Fraud comes in all different shapes and sizes, in person or online. They’re matured from the dodgy door-to-door salesperson, the lottery scams, and the convincing con artist with the ‘buy it now or regret it later’ tactic, to the more sophisticated fake websites, tempting pop-up ads, and bogus emails or texts pretending to be official organisations saying they owe you money (like that is ever going to happen!).
The old school cons are still about but there’s also the new kids on the block, the scams that are using, and abusing, the internet and social media to relieve consumers of their hard-earned cash – it’s a shameful tactic that unfortunately is very lucrative for scammers.
How can you protect yourself?
Well, the signs are that consumers will continue to be bombarded with new and even more inventive scams and so it’s very easy to be caught out. Maybe they’ll just catch you on a bad day?
You can reduce that risk by being more aware about the types of scams out there, doing your research, and thinking twice before signing up to something or clicking on that enticing link or offer.
The usual suspects! The scam line-up
Unscrupulous traders in the Canary Islands using aggressive selling to con holidaymakers
This is the time of year when people are booking their sun holidays, with Spain being particularly popular with Irish holidaymakers. However, some holidaymakers in the Canary Islands have experienced problems when buying goods, especially electronic goods, during their trips.
Although the vast majority of traders are reputable, ECC Ireland does receive reports of some bad apples who have used aggressive or misleading selling practises to pressure consumers into buying electronic items such as cameras, laptops, or tablets. In these cases, consumers, particularly the elderly, are targeted by aggressive selling practises, misled into paying inflated prices for products, or their credit card details are used to take unauthorised sums of money ranging from €200 up to €7,000.
Complaints have included traders suggesting that the product will not function properly to its highest standard unless the consumer pays for costly supplementary items such as broadband, software, or insurance. Holidaymakers have been lured in with discounts only to be talked into purchasing other products that have a much higher price tag or are part of a fake subscription. A common scenario involves the consumer paying for a product, but is then told there is a problem and asked for their credit card details again only to be charged a large sum of money.
If you think you have been caught out by a scam or fraud contact your bank or credit card company immediately to get assistance by way of a chargeback procedure and find out what else can be done to stop any further payments being taken.
Where possible, ECC Ireland highly recommends addressing the matter with the trader while you’re still at the location. If there is no resolution, put the complaint in writing using official complaint forms known as ‘hojas de reclamaciones’ which is a mandatory system under Spanish law and are available at all retailers and local consumer information offices. If a retailer refuses to facilitate the official complaint form then you should contact the Guardia Civil or Policía Local and ask for assistance. If you are already back home and suspect fraud, you can also contact the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation on 01-6663777.
If you want to find out more about this particular scam then click here for the ECC Ireland warns holidaymakers to watch out for scams when abroad press release issued in February 2016. You can also read this February 5th, 2016, article by Irish Independent journalist Pól Ó Conghaile.
Is your holiday accommodation even real and who are you really dealing with? Going off a secure site to deal directly with a host can have its risks
Securing the right accommodation is crucial when booking a holiday – get this wrong and it can completely ruin the trip. However, what if you think you have booked your accommodation properly, with the host of a property showcased on a well-known accommodation website, only to find out that the property doesn’t exist and your money has gone to a fraudster? Well, unfortunately this type of scam/fraud does happen.
ECC Ireland regularly receives such complaints. In general, the person may start their search for accommodation using a well-known and legitimate website but then might go off the site and deal directly with the host of the property. They build up a rapport and then pay the host directly. One case involved a consumer who booked a seven-day trip in Ireland and paid €3,400. The consumer thought the payment was made through the legitimate site, however, the invoice showed details of a bank in Italy and asking for the payment by bank transfer. There was another case of a consumer who paid more than €1,000 for a property in Cork but it turned out the property did not exist. The host had sent the consumer a letter claiming to be from the accommodation website.
For more information read the ‘Fake Airbnb hosts in holiday scam’ article by Siobhán Maguire which was carried in the Sunday Times on February 21, 2016
Tips on avoiding these types of scams:
- Stay on the legitimate accommodation platform you are using to book accommodation.
- If making a payment always check that the URL begins with ‘https://’ as this indicates that there are security measures in place.
- Where possible, pay using secure methods such as credit card or PayPal. If you pay by bank or wire transfer you may have no recourse if something goes wrong.
- Do your research on the property and the host. When conversing with the host ask questions about the property, request photographs, and never give over any personal details. Even when satisfied with the accommodation always make the payment through secure accommodation websites as they generally ensure some redress if things go wrong.
- Beware of fake sites claiming to be well-known accommodation websites. Double check the URL and the address to see if the company is based in the EU.
Renting accommodation in Ireland scams
With so many people looking for accommodation, especially in big cities like Dublin, some scammers are infiltrating popular accommodation forum websites, either hacking into accounts, or advertising false apartments/houses in an attempt to lure renters into handing over deposits and then scarpering.
If the price is too good to be true and the pictures look like they came out of an interior design magazine then this should be a red flag. There have been reports that when a renter enquires about the ‘luxury’ apartment, the reply usually consists of a very long-winded explanation of why the owner can’t meet in person, but that arrangements will be made to rent the flat, and oh, by the way, here’s a link to make the payment of a one month deposit and one month rent, and if you don’t like it, there’s no obligation to stay. How thoughtful of them!
In some cases, legitimate accounts have been hacked resulting in renters enquiring about a flat that does in fact exist but the response comes from a scammer pretending to be owner.
The advice here is to just be careful, don’t take anything at face value, do your research, and don’t use any links provided (no matter how legit they look) to send money.
Scams for the sale of concert tickets or events tickets are an ongoing issue for consumers. Complaints received by the ECC-Net centres usually involve fraudulent ticket sellers taking advantage of high demand for sports or concerts. This type of scam tends to become more prevalent at certain times and with a number of summer festivals coming up consumers are advised to be vigilant.
Where possible, consumers should purchase tickets through the official channel or authorised sellers only. Be cautious if buying from unofficial sellers as some may charge greatly increased prices for tickets which are not authentic or which, in some cases, may not even exist. Always use a secure method of payment (for example a credit card or PayPal) and never send payment by bank/money transfer as this cannot be traced once the funds reach the beneficiary. Consumers should also be advised that consumer legislation covers business-to-consumer transactions only – accordingly, if buying a ticket from a private individual, it may not be possible to rely on the legislation in the event of a problem.
Chip and PIN card skimming
Be careful when using your cards while out socialising abroad. ECC Ireland has received a complaint recently from a consumers who have had his chip/pin cards skimmed while socialising in a nightclub during his holidays and was stung for €9,000. While in the nightclub, the consumer consented to three charges but he then later received a further 13 charges connected to the club and then an additional 14 charges when he was back home in Ireland.
Unfortunately, this is a scam that has been around for a long time, in some shape or form, and has happened in bars, clubs, and other venues in a lot of tourist hotspots throughout the EU. It is unclear how exactly the skimming happens but they are certainly getting more sophisticated.
Check out this article from TechCrunch (March 2, 2017) which examines how ‘New skimmers fit right on top of chip and pin credit card scanners.
Click on the video below to watch a report by identity theft expert, Robert Siciliano, discussing chip and PIN ATM skimming and credit card fraud.
Other scams to add your ‘watch out for’ hit list:
Every year there are hundreds of warnings on social media about new scams and fraudulent activity. Here are just some tweets and articles from 2016 and this year raising awareness about scams and fraudsters:
- Electric Ireland warns customers over sophisticated phishing scam – March 2016
- Argos gift card scam alert – May 2016
- Dodgy text asking for a call back – June 2016
- Warning about unsolicited calls – fraudster claiming to be TalkTalk steals £13,600 from UK woman – July 2016
- Warning about scam claiming to offer Ryanair tickets – August 2016
- Scam alert about fake Bank of Ireland email asking consumers to enter details – October 2016
- Warning from ECC Austria about fake shops – November 2016
- Irish Independent article warning motorists paying for their motor tax online to watch out for fraudsters trying to get their bank details by sending emails claiming that the payment did not go through properly – February 2017.
- Another one from the Irish Independent warning about a new scam targeting Irish share owners – March 2017.
10 ways to spot counterfeits on the Internet
The European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) has published a report which examines the problems consumers experience with counterfeit goods when they are shopping online.
Having traditionally targeted the luxury market, there are now various types of counterfeit goods. This includes cosmetics, children’s toys, medicines without proper dosage instructions or market authorisation, and automobile parts that don’t conform to manufacturers’ safety standards. Counterfeit goods are now easily accessible thanks to ecommerce.
Consumer success story of the month:
After renting a vehicle, a consumer received a bill for damages from the trader. The trader claimed damage had been caused to the rear wheel due to the consumer’s usage. However, the consumer disputed this stating that the car had only been used for one journey on a motorway without issue and that the damage had been caused during a prior rental. It was also claimed that the trader should not have rented car with a faulty wheel as this would affect road worthiness and safety. ECC Ireland referred the case to colleagues at UK ECC who then brought the matter to the attention of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), which the trader is a member of. As a result of this intervention, the BVRLA investigated the matter and instructed the trader to refund the full €165.89 to the consumer.
Consumer query of the month:
Q: I received a text message from a website stating that I could win up to €500 if I sign up for its service. What was not clear is that you’d be charged €7.50 per weekly text until you send ‘STOP’ to its cancellation service. Originally, people were tricked into this service through the offer advertised with a supermarket voucher but now it appears to be targeting people through an airline’s website. People have experienced problems even after unsubscribing with payments still being taken by this company from their accounts. There seems to be no clear information provided as to what consumers are signing up for and some may not event be aware they are being charged until the bill is quite high. What are my rights?
A: We would advise consumers to always read through the terms and conditions of the service they have signed up for and to be careful that they haven’t fallen into a subscription trap. With regards mobile subscriptions, even if you are provided with a number to cancel the subscription, always ensure that you check the website’s T&Cs to find out if you are following the right cancellation procedure and to ascertain the registered contact details of the company should further difficulties arise.
In the case of continuous payments being taken from your phone/bank account, even after you have cancelled the service, it would be important to report this matter to your mobile phone network to enquire if the number can be blocked or to get further on how to stop the service. Equally, if payments have been taken from your card or bank account, you should contact your bank/credit card provider to stop any further payments being taken and if required, to reimburse the amounts that were taken without your authorisation through chargeback.
It is always important to know who you are dealing with and if you suspect fraud, you should ensure that you report the issue to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau. Additionally, if this service is being advertised through another website, you may consider reporting this issue to their customer service or fraud department so that they are aware that this problem exists and so they may take preventative action to ensure that this does not affect other consumers.
Press and Communications Officer
The European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), which covers 30 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland), and offers a free and confidential information and advice service to the public on their rights as consumers, assisting customers with cross-border disputes. ECC Ireland is funded by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the European Consumer Centre cannot be held responsible for matters arising from any errors or omissions contained in this publication. The information provided is intended as a guide only and not as a legal interpretation.
© 2017 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland) Ltd, MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7. Company limited by guarantee in Ireland, No. 367035 – Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708.
This ebulletin is part of the action 670695 – ECC-Net IE FPA which has received funding under a grant for an ECC action from the European Union’s Consumer Programme (2014-2020).
The content of this ebulletin represents the views of the author only and it is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture, and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.