Trading Standards warning – Latest Covid19 telephone scam reaches Cornwall

June 11th, 2020 by

Telephone scammers pretending to be from Cornwall Council are targeting vulnerable residents and asking for their financial details, the Trading Standards team has warned.

As more Covid19-related scams are uncovered across the UK, one Cornwall resident narrowly avoided becoming a victim after she received an unannounced call on 2 June.

The unexpected call was from a withheld number and the caller introduced themselves by saying they “were from Cornwall Council” or were “working with Cornwall Council”.

They claimed that they were phoning to check how the household was coping with the Covid-19 situation and went on to ask financial status questions, general health questions and questions such as “are you retired?”

But when the caller asked for the ages of everyone living at that address, asked if they had a mortgage and asked for the resident’s name, the intended victim grew suspicious and ended the call.

Cllr Rob Nolan, Cornwall Council Cabinet Member for Public Protection, said he was relieved that in this case the homeowner was wary enough to end the call.

“This incident again illustrates the shocking tactics that will be employed by scammers and fraudsters trying to persuade us to make payments or to hand over our financial information. Taking advantage of the Covid-19 outbreak is simply appalling behaviour,” he said.

Scammers will often pretend to be calling from any one of a number of official organisations – Cornwall Council, HMRC, NHS, telecoms and utilities companies, etc., but Trading Standards’ advice is as clear as it is when dealing with doorstep cold-callers:

NEVER deal with anyone who calls you out of the blue.

NEVER give your financial details, nor make any payment, to anyone who calls you unexpectedly.

And in these unusual times, if you have any concern that the call may not be genuine, you should insist they send you an initial letter with their full contact details so you can satisfy yourself that they really are who they say they are.

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Protecting businesses from COVID-19 scams

April 23rd, 2020 by

Malicious email attachments, false government grant phone calls and CEO impersonation scams are among a raft of scams undermining businesses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increasing risk has led National Trading Standards to launch Businesses Against Scams – a free online training tool to protect businesses, employees and customers from costly scams.

With remote working and many businesses having to stop or diversify their trading practices, criminals are seizing the opportunity to target employees who are isolated from colleagues. Scams include criminals impersonating government officials or a senior member of the business in order to put pressure on employees to give out sensitive information or make payments.

Criminals will also try and gain access to businesses devices and networks, and everything stored on them. They can do this by:

  • Sending emails with malicious attachments;
  • Exploiting vulnerabilities in your operating systems if they are not up-to-date;
  • Trying to get you to click links or visit malicious websites.

Once they have access to your device and your data, they may try to steal your data or extract money from you by getting you to pay a ransom.

At a time when businesses are already facing challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the proliferation of related scams are adding further strain on businesses. This includes scams directly targeting businesses – such as tax refund frauds – which can lead to significant financial losses for businesses.

Scams targeting customers also undermine businesses, as criminals often impersonate businesses to defraud their customer base, causing reputational damage and potential loss of business. The emotional and mental impact on employees and business owners who have fallen victim to a scam can also be devastating and long-lasting.

The increased risk for businesses has led National Trading Standards to encourage more businesses to join Businesses Against Scams. The initiative provides free tools for businesses to help upskill and train their workforce, through free online training modules that will help staff identify and prevent potential scams. Businesses can take the training and sign up at https://www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/BAS.

Louise Baxter, Head of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said:

“Criminals will use every opportunity they can to defraud innocent people. They will continue to exploit every angle of this national crisis and we want businesses to be prepared. We’ve launched Businesses Against Scams as a free tool for organisations to help them protect their business, their staff and their customers.”

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards, said:

“COVID-19 has presented new opportunities for businesses to be exploited. Criminals are expert at impersonating people, businesses and the police. They spend hours researching a business for their scams, hoping an employee might let their guard down just for a moment. Business must be vigilant at all times. Never rush, act cautiously and always challenge.

“The Businesses Against Scams initiative empowers businesses and their employees to take a stand against scams by equipping them with the advice and knowledge on how to identify and prevent a scam.”


Four common scams targeting businesses include:

Government grant/tax refund scams – A business is contacted by phone, email or post by government imposters suggesting the business might qualify for a special COVID-19 government grant or a tax refund. Variations on the scheme involve contacts through text messages, social media posts and messages.

Businesses should be cautious about unexpected urgent communications offering financial assistance. Check that the information is genuine by using official government websites.

Invoice/mandate scams – A business may be contacted out of the blue by someone claiming to be from a regular supplier. They state that their bank account details have changed and will ask you to change the payment details.

Never rush a payment. Use contact details that you have used before to check that it is genuine.

CEO impersonation scams – A sophisticated scam that plays on the authority of company directors and senior managers. An employee receives a phone call or email from someone claiming to be a senior member of staff – they ask for an urgent payment to a new account and instil a sense of panic. Scammers may even hack a staff email account or use spoofing software to appear genuine.

Be cautious about unexpected urgent requests for payment and always check the request in person if possible.

Tech support scams – With more people working remotely and IT systems under pressure, criminals may impersonate well-known companies and offer to repair devices. Criminals are trying to gain computer access or get hold of passwords and login details. Once they have access, criminals can search the hard drive for valuable information.

Always be suspicious of cold callers. Genuine companies would never call out of the blue and ask for financial information.

If a business believes they have been the victim of a scam they must contact their bank immediately and report any suspicious activity to Action Fraud https://www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.

Businesses Against Scams is a new element of the successful Friends Against Scams initiative, run by National Trading Standards to provide free online training to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/


 

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Santa’s top safety tips

December 16th, 2019 by

OPSS has partnered with Santa, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Netmums, and the Child Accident Prevention Trust to warn against second rate toys.

We have produced 12 safety tips for people to use when buying for children:

  1. Look for the CE symbol: This means the manufacturer has assessed the toy for safety. Find the symbol on the label or box.
  2. Check it’s for kids: Festive novelties can look like toys. Keep them away from kids.
  3. Reputation matters: Check the suppliers who have a good reputation for safe and reliable toys. They’ll have good safety standards and refund policies.
  4. Button battery safety: Christmas toys may have button batteries – which can prove lethal if ingested. Check they are screwed in safely before giving to a child.
  5. Check age restrictions: Toys must be clearly marked with age restrictions, which assess risks such as choking hazards. Always follow the age recommendations.
  6. Consider special needs: Remember that children with special needs might be more vulnerable, and make sure to shop accordingly.
  7. Choking hazards: Avoid toys with small parts or loose fabric – they can be a choking hazard.
  8. Loose parts: Loose ribbons on toys and costumes can be dangerous. Think before you buy.
  9. Inspect toy boxes: Wear and tear can make a toy unsafe. Check your children’s toys and get them repaired if necessary.
  10. Supervise when you need to: Some toys need an adult on hand during playtime. Read all the instructions so you can keep things under control.
  11. Tidy up: Boxes, plastic bags and wire can be a hazard. Clear away all packaging once everything’s unwrapped.
  12. Celebrate a safe Christmas: Completing these checks can save you a lot of stress later. Remember to get batteries (and dispose of these safely too)!

 

#santasafety

 

 

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Trading Standards

November 8th, 2019 by

For the latest product recalls please check here

https://productrecall.campaign.gov.uk

Are all your electrical devices registered?

Why register?

 Be the first to know of any safety repairs or recalls

•  Improve your after sales service

•  Keep in touch with upgrade news

Keep safe, register them now at https://www.registermyappliance.org.uk/

 

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Buy with Confidence is a Trading Standards Approval scheme run nationally by local authorities

October 2nd, 2019 by

The Buy with Confidence Scheme provides people in Cornwall with a list of local businesses which have given their commitment to trading fairly. Every business listed has undergone a series of detailed checks by Trading Standards officers before being approved as a member of the scheme to ensure that they operate in a legal, honest and fair way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Illegal tobacco, alcohol and DVDs business turned over £176K before being busted

November 8th, 2018 by

An illegal tobacco, alcohol and DVD seller turned over £176,000 in two years before being busted.

A man from Chacewater has been found guilty of selling illegal tobacco, counterfeit DVDs and alcohol from his home.

Neal Andrew Phillips, 52, of Boscawen Road, Chacewater, pleaded guilty to a number of charges at Truro Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday (October 31).

Following tip offs from members of the public, Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards officers, with the assistance of Devon and Cornwall Police, raided his home.

They seized a large quantity of tobacco products, counterfeit DVDs, illegal alcohol and cash, along with records indicating that Phillips’ illegal business had turned over as much as £176,000 in a two-year period.

Magistrates severely reprimanded Phillips, stating that only his early guilty plea and his medical condition had saved him from an immediate custodial sentence to reflect the seriousness of his offending.

Phillips was ordered to undertake an eight-month community order, to serve an eight-month curfew between 8pm and 8am seven days a week and to wear a tag. He was also ordered to pay £4,000 towards the prosecution costs.

Phillips will also face proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act in respect of cash seized from the property.

All of the illegal items seized during the Trading Standards operation were forfeited for destruction.

The 12 charges related to nearly 200 packets of Cutters Choice and 124 packets of Golden Virginia rolling tobacco, 241 packets of Golden Classic, 165 packets of President and six packets of Embassy cigarettes without required health warnings and/or standardised packaging, which wee found on January 15

The alcohol and DVDs were subject of a court forfeiture order.

Steve Brown, Cornwall Council’s interim service director for wellbeing and public health said: The work by Trading Standards to get cheap cigarettes and tobacco off the streets directly supports our efforts to reduce smoking levels in Cornwall.

“We know that price is an important motivator when a smoker decides to quit, so the sale of cheap tobacco undermines this. As smoking is the number one cause of preventable ill health, anything that can be done to reduce smoking levels has to be a good thing for the residents of Cornwall.

Councillor Sue James, Cabinet member for neighbourhoods and public protection, said: “I am proud of the work that our Trading Standards officers undertake in combatting sales of illegal tobacco. This criminal activity affects the health of local communities, undermines local businesses and starves our schools and health services of unpaid taxes.

“In this particular case, officers received good information from members of the public and we would encourage anyone with information about illegal tobacco sales in their area to report it via CrimeStoppers on 0800 555 111 or by email to report-it@cornwall.gov.uk

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Heatwave brings out scam gardeners

August 16th, 2018 by

Cornwall’s hot sunny weather this summer has sparked an increase in doorstep scams involving garden or outside maintenance.

Now Cornwall Council Trading Standards are urging residents to be vigilant after a surge in reported incidents over the past two weeks, especially at park home sites.

Different scams have featured gardening and tree surgery work targeted for unnecessary and over-priced repairs.

In one recent case, the cold caller started work clearing grass clippings before getting any agreement from the home owner to do it. When refused payment for the work they started to rummage around in a workshop, attempting to take tools and other items as payment.

In another case, cold callers have undertaken work to replace support jacks underneath park home properties, preying on resident’s fears about the condition of supports underneath their homes. Although some work was carried out, it appears to have been massively over-priced and unnecessary.

In the past couple of weeks there have been nine separate reported complaints from residents in Redruth, Bodmin, Helston, St Austell, and St Columb.

Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards team works in partnership with Devon & Cornwall Police to investigate these issues, and where possible, bring offenders before the courts.

In order to help communities avoid the rogues, the team operates the ‘Trading Standards approved’ Buy With Confidence Scheme; offering a directory of tradespeople who have been vetted by our Service to ensure that they are reputable and trustworthy businesses

Sue James, Cabinet Portfolio holder for public protection said: “Doorstep scams take place when someone comes to your door with the aim of scamming you out of your money or trying to gain access to your property.

“Scams can happen at any time of the year, but we have noticed an increase in scams relating to home and garden maintenance, possibly linked to the beautiful weather we are experiencing and people wanting to spend time outdoors.

“While the majority of tradespeople and officials are legitimate it’s wise to be on your guard when you answer your door. Doorstep scammers can be persuasive or pushy but also polite or friendly, and it can be easy to fall victim. It’s especially important to be vigilant and aware if you live on your own.

“Many of the recent reports we’ve received have been opportunistic – they’ve seen someone out working in the garden and have been pushy in getting them agree to pay for services.

“The criminals generally focus on the elderly and vulnerable, and are very good at spotting their targets. We all need to be vigilant, and look out for our friends and neighbours. Just because someone presents a business card with some local telephone numbers on it, does not mean it’s a genuine business.”

Residents are asked to report concerns to Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 04 05 06; alternatively, If you see a suspected rogue trader actively working on a property in your area, please report to the police on 101.

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Be wary of free home energy improvement grants

January 15th, 2018 by

The Government’s Green Deal initiative was launched in 2013, with the aim of improving the energy efficiency of homes, in a bid to reduce carbon emissions in the UK.

The improvements it offered included the installation of boilers, heating systems, insulation or double glazing. The cost of this work was met by a loan, added to the energy bills of the home owner. However, the homeowner would only pay an amount which was based on the projected ‘savings’ that the improvements were supposed to bring.

Whilst well intentioned, the scheme proved to be flawed in a number of ways and was ended in 2015, with the intention that an improved version would be launched again in the near future.

Additionally, another scheme – The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme – was launched alongside the Green Deal. It put an obligation on the big energy companies to fund home energy improvements; in order to help low-income households, people living in older properties and low-income communities.

Unfortunately for both schemes, some unscrupulous businesses saw this as a good opportunity to make money by taking advantage of unwary consumers.

As a result many thousands of home owners now regularly receive nuisance telephone calls or door-to-door salespeople, offering free home improvements, and claiming to represent the ‘Government’ or ‘local Council’.

On the face of it, they appear to be a really good deal. If you can demonstrate that you are in receipt of some form of benefit such as Pension Credit, Income Support, or Child Tax Credit, the firm will send out a ‘surveyor’ to come and assess your home and recommend the best solution; which will then be installed for free.

Unfortunately the surveyors often turn out to be little more than salespeople, with no specific home energy knowledge. If it turns out you’re not eligible for free improvements, they will often try and sell you a heating system or other form of home improvement, regardless as to whether it would make the promised improvement to efficiency.

Gary Webster, Senior Trading Standards Officer with Cornwall Council said “Our Fair Trading team has seen a rise in the number of cases being reported through Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline. In many of the cases notified to us, the recommended energy solutions have been inadequate for the size or nature of the property.

We’ve heard of homes being harder to keep warm as a result, particularly where entire heating systems have been installed. It suggests that not enough care is being taken to properly assess the household needs.

There have been reported cases where the homeowners, who are sometimes elderly or vulnerable, receive no help or guidance on how to use the new system or set their heating correctly. Where they have tried to complain, they are ignored or fobbed-off by the installers – who are often based hundreds of miles away, with no intention of dealing constructively with complaints.

In some instances, no paperwork has been left at the property, so the homeowner isn’t actually clear who it was that carried out the work.”

If you are thinking of improving the energy efficiency of your home then Trading Standards would suggest the following advice:

  • Avoid agreeing to anything as a result of an unsolicited phone call or knock at the door.
  • Be extremely wary if the caller claims to working on behalf of the Government or Council.
  • Seek advice from Community Energy Plus (see details below); they are a social enterprise, based in Cornwall, who can provide a wealth of information on home energy improvements and energy bill reduction. They can also refer you to local installers who may be able to undertake any necessary works.
  • If you experience any problems, seek advice at an early stage. The Citizens Advice Consumer Service can provide telephone or email support in dealing with complaints and, in serious cases, may refer the matter to Trading Standards.

For more information about how to make energy savings in the home:

Community Energy Plus – www.cep.org.uk – 0800 954 1956

For complaints about installers of home energy saving products:

Citizens Advice Consumer Service – www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer

03454 04 05 06

If you have a complaint about your energy supplier that cannot be resolved via their own complaints procedure:

OFGEM – www.ofgem.gov.uk  – 020 7901 7295

For winter wellbeing advice:

Cornwall Council – www.cornwall.gov.uk/winterwellbeing – 0800 954 1956 (provided through Community Energy Plus)

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‘Tis the season to be wary warns Cornwall’s Trading Standards  

December 12th, 2017 by

Shoppers are being warned to be wary of opportunistic scams this Christmas by Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards team.

The safest way to avoid the disappointment of being ripped off or receiving broken, substitute or poor quality gifts to give as Christmas presents, is to buy goods from genuine, established shops and businesses.

However, with more and more people opting to buy presents online, Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards team are urging people to be cautious before entering their payment details on websites or giving them over the phone.

Fair Trade Team Manager Nigel Strick said: “Last Christmas, Royal Mail handled over 138 million parcels, with almost 90% of shoppers buying some or all of their presents online. The average household spends almost £800 on Christmas, which means a lot of money is being paid to online businesses for goods that people haven’t actually seen.

“Unfortunately, this volume of online spending and the pressure associated with ‘must have’ Christmas presents means that there is even greater risk of being targeted by on-line fraudsters, so it pays to take a few precautions and be safe.”

To help people avoid falling victim to scammers and ensure they have a merry Christmas, Trading Standards has issued the following advice:

  • Fake delivery emails or phone calls: In the run-up to Christmas, many people have dozens of packages arriving and often lose track of what they’ve ordered. Scammers know this and send out emails or make phone calls that purport to come from legitimate courier companies. Usually these ask for payments to ‘release’ the parcel or redirect victims to scam websites containing malware or further scams.
  • Stay safe: Never agree to make any payment for the release of a parcel. Delivery companies will usually leave a card if you are out so use the information on that card to check on the delivery company’s website. Check the sender’s address to make sure it is something you are expecting and go to that company’s own website to track orders.
  • Fake online shops: As the pressure mounts to find that ‘must have’ gift or to save money on Christmas present buying or even to find the time to buy the all-important presents so does the number of bogus websites offering exactly what you need and often at bargain prices. Sometimes these sites will look identical to other, legitimate websites – but it’s all part of the scam, designed to trick you into parting with your money. How do you protect yourself against this? What can people do?
  • Stay secure: Look out for the padlock sign on the left of the toolbar and look for ‘https’ instead of ‘http’” at the start of the website address before you enter any sensitive information. This means a website is secure.  Look for online reviews of the website to see if others have had problems or can confirm its authenticity. And check that you know exactly who you are dealing with – the name of the business, its registered office, contact details in case of problems, etc.
  • E-voucher and ticket scams: Trying to save some money or grab a bargain can lead you open to e-voucher or ticket scams. These are often shared via social media or by direct e-mail and can claim to offer free vouchers from well-known brands. But click on the link and you will inevitably be taken to a fake site where you will be asked for a small payment or for your personal details. Online ticket agencies are often the best way to purchase must have tickets for shows, concerts and events – but even some of the larger online sites these days offer tickets they don’t have.
  • Email safety: Be careful when opening any e-mail from an unfamiliar address, no matter how tempting the offer sounds. Poor spelling and grammar is one tell-tale sign that something isn’t right. If in doubt, check the voucher by contacting the actual shop, and only buy tickets from the officially authorised website or box office.
  • Social media scams: Social media sites are often used to advertise amazing deals on electronics, toys, perfumes, fashion clothing and jewellery. But be warned, lots of these offers are completely bogus or are offering counterfeit copies. Either way, your disappointment is the only thing that will be guaranteed. Social networks also make it easy to share links to phishing sites and malware. Only deal with genuine, authorised outlets and websites – companies that you have dealt with before.

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Protection Sue James said: “Remember, if an offer in your email or text inbox sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  It pays to be wary and to treat anything suspicious in the same cautious way that you would any unexpected emails or texts offering to save you money.”

Scams can be reported on 03454 040506 , with advice on the latest scams and how to avoid them available via the Action Fraud website.

Businesses in Cornwall selling goods via the internet can get advice and information about obligations and liabilities from Trading Standards by calling 0300 1234 212 (option 2).

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Trading Standards has seen an increase in complaints relating to the sale of roof insulation

November 26th, 2017 by

The latest rash of consumer complaints sees consumers telephoned and offered a type of insulation called ‘spray foam’. Once they have agreed to a home visit from the companies, a survey is conducted almost immediately and contracts drawn up there and then. This doesn’t allow homeowners the time to make a considered decision as to whether the product is right for them and the main complaint we have received is that companies are not allowing them to cancel within their statutory 14 day cooling off period.

Spray foam insulation is a costly alternative to the traditional fibreglass insulation normally used in roof spaces. It is a liquid foam that is sprayed onto surfaces and sets into an insulating layer. Spray foam sets rigid and is waterproof so you need to ensure that your roof is well ventilated otherwise there will be a build up of moisture which could cause condensation and damage the rafters and other water sensitive components. It could also be difficult to remove, without causing damage if there are any problems or repairs needed down the line.

Leanne McLean, Lead Officer for Doorstep Crime said, “We would recommend that anyone wanting to better insulate their home, first contact their energy supplier. Many will offer free insulation under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO). If you don’t qualify, we would recommend you get quotes from at least three suppliers using our Buy With Confidence list of Trading Standards approved traders and family/friends recommendation. Never agree to a contract straight away at your home – genuine traders will be happy for you to consider their quote before signing anything.”

Anyone who feels they have been victim of a scam relating to loft insulation, or for any other consumer issues, can report the matter to Citizens Advice by calling 03454 040506 or visiting their website www.citizensadvice.org.uk

A full list of Buy With Confidence members can be found here http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/business/trading-standards/buy-with-confidence-scheme/cornwalls-buy-with-confidence-approved-businesses/#-tab-418416 or accessed via www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk

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