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OFT launches scam awareness month

LONDON - The Office of Fair Trading is launching a month-long campaign to raise awareness of mass-marketed scams, which are delivered by direct marketing via post, email, text, phone and internet.

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The OFT is hoping its 2008 Scams Awareness Month can educate consumers about scams such as bogus lotteries, deceptive prize draws and sweepstakes, fake psychics and 'miracle' health cures.

The campaign also aims to highlight the misery of elderly and vulnerable consumers who repeatedly fall victim to direct marketing scams, which reportedly cost the UK public £3.5bn a year.

OFT research shows that older victims are likely to lose nearly twice as much per scam as others. The trading watchdog is distributing a new leaflet to carers and care professionals called "Can you stop the person you care for from being scammed?" and an accompanying leaflet titled "Don't let them con you".

The OFT is working with partners including Carers UK, Help the Aged, Age Concern, Citizens Advice, Action on Elder Abuse, Neighbourhood Watch, housing associations and Local Authority Trading Standards Services to raise awareness of the campaign.

Daniel Blake, policy development manager at the charity Action on Elder Abuse, said: "Scammers operate through a ruthless circle of psychological and financial abuse. They gain people's trust and exploit fears, insecurities and pain to steal as much money as they can from those who can least afford it. We are supporting this campaign to empower consumers and their support networks to stamp out scams."

Scams are an OFT priority. In 2005, the OFT launched a Scambusters team and set up the Scams Enforcement Group with partner organisations focusing on law enforcement, consumer education, and cooperation with private sector businesses to disrupt scammers' routes to market.

Mike Haley, OFT director of consumer protection, said: "Scammers use sophisticated psychological techniques to target people who are often the most vulnerable in society.

"Those who fall for these scams not only lose their savings, but often live in fear, suffering debt and depression and being too afraid to tell anyone of their plight. We want to ask family members, carers and others to help spot the warning signs before it is too late."

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