Beware caller ID: it may not be your bank, it could be a fraudster | Money | The Guardian

Scam started when the real Metro Bank ID number flashed up on a smartphone

The number ID flashes up on your phone identifying the call as coming from your bank. But beware – caller ID can be easily spoofed by fraudsters, as one Cambridge businesswoman found to her cost after crooks convinced her she was talking to her legitimate bank, and then emptied her account of £90,000.The businesswoman also accuses her bank, Metro, of lax security procedures that enabled the crooks to set up payments to accounts at Barclays, through which the money was siphoned from her account.

Jane Holden says the fraud started with a phone call to her mobile which showed it was from Metro’s 0345 business banking number. Although Metro has now agreed to refund her the £90,000 following the Guardian’s intervention, she says the episode has left her shocked at how vulnerable bank customers are. She says she now plans to move to another bank.

Her case started in late February when, while abroad, she realised that she had missed four calls to her mobile all from the same number, 0345 080508, which she knew to be Metro Bank’s business call centre. When they rang again in the evening and she was able to answer, the caller claimed to be from the bank’s fraud team.

“I was told it was concerned about fraudulent hotel bookings I had made using Booking.com,” she says. “I questioned how I could verify they were calling from the bank and they directed me to the Metro website to check any number calling is genuine, which I did. The number on my phone also matched that on the back on my bank card.”

She had also received, during the day, a confirmation booking text that appeared to have come from Booking.com.It was by this point I was convinced I was talking to the bank. They then said they needed me to clear security to discuss further, and asked me for characters from my password and from my memorable word, just as my bank does.They must have had access to my online banking membership number as I don’t know this, and I was not asked for it.To cancel the hotel bookings they said they would send me ‘a payee code’ as the fraudulent payments had been set up as ‘faster payments’.I received three text messages which I read back to them. It all happened very fast,” she says.

Unknown to her, the fraudsters had changed the phone ID on their system to show Metro Bank’s number on her handset, which is easily done. They had also faked the Booking.com text. Armed with the codes she had read out, they set up payments out of her account. With access to both her personal and business account they were able to subsequently take £90,000 through a series of payments – all paid to one of three Barclays accounts that they used to launder her money.

“They somehow had my mobile and the whole of my debit card number – not just the last four digits – you have to have ones from the middle to make the payments,” she says. “All along, the person I spoke to was very professional and sounded exactly as though they worked in a bank fraud call centre. I am an internet-savvy businesswoman who runs a successful business, and this can happen to anyone. It was a terrible moment when Metro told me that they believed I had been grossly negligent and would not refund me. I later found out that the fraudsters also changed my internet banking password and memorable word while logged in, allowing them to access my account multiple times. And yet Metro sent no text notifications. I’d have thought that was a basic security measure.”

Metro Bank told Money: “We take our customers’ security extremely seriously and have a range of safeguards in place to help defend them against fraud, which we constantly review and update in light of ever-changing and increasingly sophisticated tactics from fraudsters. We have taken the opportunity to undertake a further review of this case as we always want to do the right thing for our customers. I can confirm, as a result of this case being reviewed, and revisiting the facts available to us, we will be offering a full refund to the customer.”

* Jane Holden is not her real name

The warning signs

Fraudsters using fake – or spoofed – phone numbers to help convince their victims is not new, but it reached an epidemic in recent months due in part to the ubiquity of smartphones.

It is surprisingly easy for a fraudster to change their phone’s caller ID to mimic that of a bank or other government agency. There is nothing to stop a fraudster inputting any bank’s customer service number which is automatically displayed on the mobile handset.

If the receiving smartphone has that bank’s customer service number in their phone’s contacts list, the handset will recognise that and tell the person that NatWest or whoever is calling.

Similarly, texts that come in from the fraudsters using a spoofed number, will show up as being from the bank – often appearing alongside legitimate texts sent out by the bank. Last week, Which? warned consumers to be on their guard against this growing problem. The same goes for trusted organisations like HMRC, the DVLA or TV Licensing or well-known brands such as Apple or PayPal.

It says texts have been particularly effective at duping customers because of the way smartphones group messages that claim to come from the same source.

If you receive a voice or automated call – either at home or on your mobile – that claims to be from your bank, hang up. Having cleared the line, phone the bank yourself on the number shown on your bank card. Texts should be treated as equally suspicious.

The banks have said they can’t prevent scammers using technology to impersonate them, as they don’t control the gateways through which spoofed texts are sent.

A genuine bank will never contact you asking for your pin, full password, or to move money to a safe account.

Should banks refund customers in cases such as this?

Last autumn, the Financial Ombudsman Service put banks like Metro on notice that blanket refusals to refund in such circumstances will no longer be tolerated. Instead, banks will have to take into account the “evolution and sophistication” of fraud.

The chief ombudsman, Caroline Wayman, told the banks that it was not fair to automatically call a customer grossly negligent simply because they’ve fallen for a scam. “That’s especially true in light of the sophisticated way criminals exploit banks’ security systems – and convince customers that their money is at risk,” she said at the time.

Banking regulations state that the bank must refund any payment that was not “authorised” by the account holder. Account holders whose account has been emptied by a fraudster cannot be said to have “authorised” such payments, therefore they should be refunded.

A year ago Money featured the case a Kent-based businessman, who lost £20,000 after fraudsters were able to go into the Brixton, south London branch of mobile phone company EE and take over his phone account, which they used to set up a series of new online payments, that subsequently emptied his Metro account. Metro told him that it would not refund him claiming he had been grossly negligent. FOS later ruled against Metro and ordered the bak to refund him.

He said then: “I’ve used internet banking for over 15 years and have never been a victim of online fraud; however after only seven weeks of being a Metro customer I have fallen victim to online fraud. I wish I read reviews online before opening the account as I see this appears to be a bigger problem with Metro,” he told Money.

Source: Beware caller ID: it may not be your bank, it could be a fraudster | Money | The Guardian

Cyber Safe Warwickshire – A TV licence phishing scam has driven over 5,000 complaints

A phishing scam using TV licence renewal as bait has been circulating email inboxes around the UK, driving 5,057 complaints according to Action Fraud.

The email, which tricks people into opening it with headings about licence expiry and incorrect information, leads victims through to a page where they’re required to enter their account number, sort code and card verification number – everything needed for scammers to steal money from innocent victims.

In some cases, the page asks for more information that could be used for identity theft or future social engineering, including a name, date of birth, address, phone number, email address and mother’s maiden name.

The emails themselves look worryingly convincing, and headlines like “correct your licensing information” and “your TV licence expires today” feel suitably formal, too. A spokesperson for TV Licencing was quite clear, however: “TV Licensing will never email customers, unprompted, to ask for bank details, personal information or tell you that you may be entitled to a refund.”

TV Licencing’s phishing section of its FAQ has been updated with details of the latest scam, and it’s unequivocal in its instructions: “If you receive a similar email message, please delete it. If you have already clicked the link, do not enter or submit any information.

This isn’t the first time the TV licence has been used as the bait in a phishing campaign. Back in 2017, Action Fraud heard from more than 200 people who have received fake emails promising them a rebate on their licence fee, if they just entered their bank details. Suffice it to say that those that did found themselves losing money, rather than gaining it.

TV Licensing will never:

  • email you to tell you that you’re entitled to a refund.
  • ask you to pay additional money for our services, e.g. when you’re buying a licence or changing your details.

If you do fall victim to an online shopping scam, report what happened to Action Fraud online or via 0300 123 2040.

If you have fallen victim to a local trader, contact Warwickshire Trading Standards, via Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 03454 040 506.

You can also receive support from Warwickshire Victim Support, on 01926 682 693, following any cyber crime.

 

https://www.itpro.co.uk/phishing/32666/tv-licence-phishing-scam

Source: Cyber Safe Warwickshire – A TV licence phishing scam has driven over 5,000 complaints

Watch For Bogus Facebook Posts Offering Center Parcs Holiday Prizes – Hoax-Slayer

According to a post being shared across Facebook, you can comment and share for the chance to win a holiday for 4 people from holiday company Center Parcs.  The post purports to be from a person called “Mark Frendon” who claims to be the CEO of Center Parcs. It features images of “Mark” surrounded by golden envelopes that supposedly contain tickets for the holiday. However, the post is a scam. It is not connected to Center Parcs and those who participate have no chance whatsoever of winning any holidays.

The CEO of Center Parcs UK is Martin Dalby not “Mark Frendon”.  And, the golden envelopes featured in the scam post were actually used to hold the results of the Oscars for the 2016 Academy Awards show. The image was taken from a February 2016 Los Angeles Times report about the making of the Oscars envelopes. And, the same golden envelope image has been used in several other Facebook giveaway scams.

The scam post is designed to promote the fake Facebook Page to a much wider audience by tricking people into liking and sharing.  The scammers have also included comments on the fake post that insist that people click a link to complete their prize entry. Clicking the link takes people to suspect third party websites that offer the chance to win further prizes in exchange for submitting their name and contact details. If you participate, the information you submit will be shared with dodgy marketing companies who will subsequently flood you with unwanted emails, text messages, and phone calls peddling a range of dubious products and services.

It appears that the scam Facebook Page that the fake prize post comes from has now been taken down. But, more versions may follow. If one of the posts comes your way, do not click on it.

An example of the scam:

Fake Center Pacs Holiday Giveaway PostTranscript:

Hello everyone, I’m Mark Frendon the CEO of Center Parcs. Today I have some fantastic news, 30 random people who’ve shared and commented by 11 pm tonight will each be receiving one of these envelopes containing a Center Parcs holiday for 4!

Source: Watch For Bogus Facebook Posts Offering Center Parcs Holiday Prizes – Hoax-Slayer

How to Recognise and Avoid Facebook Phishing Scams – Hoax-Slayer

Source: How to Recognise and Avoid Facebook Phishing Scams – Hoax-Slayer

A Warning to Warwickshire Residents On The Risks of Thefts From Vehicles

Using a new series of short videos, Safe In Warwickshire and key strategic partners are warning residents in Warwickshire of the risk of thefts from vehicles this summer.

The new videos – presented from the point of view of a fictional car thief organisation (Warwickshire Automobile Thieves Society) –show exactly what car thieves are looking for and just how easy valuables can fall prey to these criminals when they are left on display.

The key messages for residents are:

  • Always lock and secure your vehicle when it is parked, whether that is on-street, outside your home or in a public car park;
  • Never leave any valuables on display in your vehicle when it is parked;
  • If at all possible, take all valuable with you when leaving your car. Putting them in your boot does not necessarily make them safe, the thieves will look there too; and
  • For anyone with their own tools, never leave these locked in your vehicle overnight, take them indoors at the end of the day.

Four new videos which have been produced for the campaign, are available on YouTube.

Cllr Andy Crump, Warwickshire County Council portfolio holder for Fire and Rescue and Community Safety says: “Theft from vehicles is a highly opportunistic crime, if we collectively remove the opportunity by following the simple advice at the heart of this campaign, we can reduce these thefts in Warwickshire.”

Neil Harrison, Chief Inspector with Warwickshire Police says: “We are working closely with our partners to continue to reduce opportunities for thieves to steal from cars. Criminals are often attracted to items left in vehicles and will also be opportunistic taking advantage of vehicles which has not been locked. I would like to remind and encourage the public that by ensuring their vehicles are locked and don’t have items on display will significantly reduce the likelihood of them being a victim of vehicle crime. Policing operations will also continue across the county to disrupt, deter and detect offenders.”

A website has also been created for the campaign, with more advice about keeping your valuables safe. You can also follow Warwickshire Automobile Thieves on Twitter and Facebook.

Safe and secure online, on holiday – Kaspersky Lab official blog

Hopefully, you’ve read our advice on researching and booking holidays and other travel safely and securely. But have you thought about how to keep yourself protected online while you’re away, whether it’s the annual family holiday or a short break?

Whether you’re basking in the sunshine or enjoying the snowy slopes, it can be easy to forget that your online safety is as important as your sunscreen or goggles. So we’d like to offer some simple advice to help ensure that when it comes to being online, you’re as safe when away as when you’re at home.

Look after your mobile devices

The great thing about smartphones and tablets is that they’re small and portable. The downside to this is that they’re easy to lose, and easy for someone to steal. The consequences of this happening in your own country are bad enough, but if you’re abroad, you face additional inconvenience, expense and, often, upset.

When you’re out and about – especially in city centres – keep your phone or tablet close to you and get it out only when you have to in a safe place, to answer a message or check the map. Don’t leave it unattended in cafes, bars or public transport, and if there isn’t a safe in your hotel room, we recommend you take it with you.

And remember that apartments, villas, ski lodges or caravans all make attractive targets for thieves, so take care here as well.

Wi-Fi hotspots

When you’re on holiday – just like when you’re at home – there’s nothing easier and more convenient than being able to connect to Wi-Fi in your hotel room, the café or a bar. You can keep up with your friends, check the news, catch up on your email (uh oh, you’re meant to be relaxing!) and check your bank account.

But have you considered if that hotspot is secure, and what information you might be revealing inadvertently?

If you’re doing anything private online such as banking, paying for something, logging into a shopping site or confidential email – our advice is: don’t do it using a Wi-Fi hotspot, but use your data (remember, roaming is cheaper these days) or a mobile dongle.

This is because with hotspots, you have no guarantee that the connection is secure, so there’s a chance that it could be eavesdropped on orhijacked. Even if you need a code or your email to log on, it’s not worth the risk.

Social media

When you’re having a great time on holiday, there’s nothing quite like sharing it with posts and photos on your favourite social media platform, right?

Right, but the problem is, you can never be sure who’s going to end up seeing what you’ve posted and these days, social media has become the best friend of both burglars and fraudsters.

Advertise that fact that your home is unoccupied – even if it’s only for a weekend break – and you’re risking having it broken into. This isn’t uncommon, and even high-profile celebs have fallen victim. Insurance companies are now refusing to pay out if they find you’ve posted that you’re away so surely this, combined with the thought that somebody could be going through all your belongings while you’re away, would make you think twice.

We mentioned fraudsters using social media too, and this one affects your workplace. It’s become commonplace for fraudsters to combine the fact that you’re away on holiday with other snippets gained on LinkedIn or a sly phone call to defraud your business. They’ll impersonate a supplier, the bank, HMRC or – if you’re a senior exec, you – to extract money out of an unwitting colleague. You can only begin to imagine the consequences.

In conclusion

We want to you relax and enjoy your break and be able to enjoy your online experience seamlessly and safely while you’re away too. Following this practical holiday advice and the other online safety basics on our website, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Have a great time!

Source: Safe and secure online, on holiday – Kaspersky Lab official blog

Hunt for gang of travellers scamming elderly and vulnerable out of millions | Metro News

Whatever you do, don’t open your door to this gang of travellers. They are suspected of conning the elderly and vulnerable out of £3million and have been named as some of the UK’s most wanted fraudsters. The gang of five men and one woman are wanted after disappearing while out on bail.

The leaders of the gang have been identified as husband and wife Kathleen McCarthy, 29, pictured  and Oliver Boswell, 30 (Picture: City of London Police)
Do not open the door to this gang of fraudsters scamming the vulnerable out of millions
Oliver Boswell (Picture: City of London Police) Joint Fraud Taskforce calls on public?s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters responsible for more than ?1 million in losses. The Joint Fraud Taskforce is asking for the public?s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters. The City of London Police is today (Thursday 26 July) urging members of the public to help locate the fraudsters who are collectively responsible for more than a million pounds in fraud losses across the UK.
Oliver Boswell is part of the gang of fraudsters who are pretending to be judges, police and trading standards officers to make their victims transfer large sums of money (Picture: City of London Police).
Police have now launched an appeal for any information related to the rogue traders and conmen, who have been tricking residents into agreeing to unnecessary work on their homes which was never carried out. In some instances, the fraudsters pretended to be judges, police and trading standards officers to make their victims transfer large sums of money.

The pair have already been convicted of money laundering, with McCarthy stealing more than £220,000 from 14 elderly victims in just one year.

John McCarthy (Picture: City of London Police) Joint Fraud Taskforce calls on public?s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters responsible for more than ?1 million in losses. The Joint Fraud Taskforce is asking for the public?s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters. The City of London Police is today (Thursday 26 July) urging members of the public to help locate the fraudsters who are collectively responsible for more than a million pounds in fraud losses across the UK.
John McCarthy, 33, is wanted for five fraud and money laundering offences after posing as a trading standards officer (Picture: City of London Police)

But they are now on the run after failing to turn up for their trial at Lewes Crown Court in December. Other members of the gang include James Flynn, 42, who duped a man in west London into transferring £64,400, John McCarthy, 33, who is wanted for five fraud and money laundering offences after posing as a trading standards officer, John O’Brien, 49, from Cambridge, and Daniel Sheridan, 48, from Wolverhampton. O’Brien allegedly made a victim hand over £75,000 in an advance fee scam where they are convinced to make an up-front payment in the promise of getting a share of a larger sum later. Sheridan is accused of posing as a judge during a phone call and threatening a victim with jail for contempt of court unless he handed over £79,000.

Denis Marku (Picture: City of London Police) Joint Fraud Taskforce calls on public?s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters responsible for more than ?1 million in losses. The Joint Fraud Taskforce is asking for the public?s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters. The City of London Police is today (Thursday 26 July) urging members of the public to help locate the fraudsters who are collectively responsible for more than a million pounds in fraud losses across the UK.
Denis Marku, from London, is suspected of using his role as a cashier at a Chelsea bank to steal more than £3million from customer accounts (Picture: City of London Police)
Nathan Scott Hudson (Picture: City of London Police) Joint Fraud Taskforce calls on public?s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters responsible for more than ?1 million in losses. The Joint Fraud Taskforce is asking for the public?s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters. The City of London Police is today (Thursday 26 July) urging members of the public to help locate the fraudsters who are collectively responsible for more than a million pounds in fraud losses across the UK.
Nathan Scott Hudson, from East Yorkshire, is suspected of stealing £110,000 from people who invested in several fake businesses (Picture: City of London Police)

The Joint Fraud Taskforce, made up of police, banks and other industry bodies, issued the appeal. They are also appealing for information about two other suspected fraudsters: Nathan Hudson, 34, and Denis Marku, 21. Hudson is suspected of stealing £110,000 from people who invested in several fake businesses. Marku, from London, is suspected of using his role as a cashier at a Chelsea bank to steal more than £3million from customer accounts.

Commissioner Ian Dyson, from City of London Police, added: ‘I would urge anyone who has information on the wanted fraudsters to call officers as these people will continue to commit fraud across the globe that cause misery to so many worldwide.’

Source: Hunt for gang of travellers scamming elderly and vulnerable out of millions | Metro News

Joint Fraud Task-force calls on public’s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters responsible for more than £1 million in losses

The Joint Fraud Taskforce is asking for the public’s help to catch eight wanted fraudsters. The City of London Police is today (Thursday 26 July) urging members of the public to help locate the fraudsters who are collectively responsible for more than a million pounds in fraud losses across the UK.

All eight have been identified through the work of the Joint Fraud Taskforce, an initiative that brings together law enforcement agencies, the financial sector and Government to fight criminals who prey on the public and UK businesses.

They include Nathan Hudson who defrauded people across London, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Plymouth, Cornwall and Poole; Denis Marku from south London who carried out frauds while working as a bank cashier; and six people including a husband and wife, who took part in ‘rogue trader’ scams throughout the country.

The wanted fraudsters have been identified as serious offenders by members of the Joint Fraud Taskforce, with submissions from UK police forces and other agencies, with the campaign to locate and bring them to justice led by the City of London Police, in its role as the national lead police force for fraud.

The eight suspects show the scale of the fight against fraud including how criminals use the internet to commit their crimes and launder the proceeds. This appeal also follows the recent publication of the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Crime Survey of England and Wales which once again showed that fraud is one of the most prevalent crimes in the UK.

City of London Police Commissioner Ian Dyson QPM said:

“Law enforcement, Government, businesses, and the public working together is one of the keys to combating fraud and bringing criminals to justice.

“The Joint Fraud Taskforce is key to this and brings an urgency and clarity to the UK’s response to fraud, and enhances our efforts to protect the public and businesses across the UK.

“I would urge anyone who has information on the wanted fraudsters to call officers as these people will continue to commit fraud across the globe that cause misery to so many worldwide.”

National Crime Agency Director of Prosperity Donald Toon said: “The eight wanted fraudsters that feature in this campaign have each caused significant harm to people in the UK. We in the NCA are working in close partnership, through groups such as the Joint Fraud Taskforce, with organisations across the public and private sectors to apprehend criminals who have so far managed to evade justice. Members of the public have a key role to play in helping to locate these criminals to ensure that they are brought to justice. I appeal to anyone who may have relevant information to contact Crimestoppers and help ensure that these fraudsters can no longer cause financial harm and emotional distress to their victims.”

Katy Worobec, Managing Director of Economic Crime at UK Finance, said:
“Fraud affects the whole of society, so eradicating it requires action from all corners. Through the Joint Fraud Taskforce the finance industry is combining with law enforcement and the government to make the UK the most hostile environment in the world for fraudsters. “The industry also fully sponsors a specialist police unit, the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit, which targets the organised criminal groups responsible for these crimes.”

Mike Haley, Chief Executive of Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service, said: “The launch of the Joint Fraud Taskforce two years ago was an important step towards creating a new era of collaboration amongst government, police and industry partners, resulting in shared intelligence, a unified response and greater awareness of the risk of fraud among consumers. Fraud is the volume crime of the 21st Century and with this more focused approach fraudsters should expect to be caught and brought to justice.”

Today’s release follows the first Joint Fraud Taskforce (JFT) wanted fraudsters appeal, which was issued in July 2016. Two years ago we highlighted ten wanted fraudsters who were linked to over £20 million in fraud losses in the UK and abroad. Of these, five still remain outstanding. We would urge anyone who has information on the five outstanding wanted fraudsters from the 2016 appeal to contact the relevant agency, or Crimestoppers immediately with any information which could assist these investigations.

If you do not want to speak directly to the police you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

==

Timeshare Scams Haven’t Gone Away Warn Trading Standards

Timeshare scams haven’t gone away! That’s the warning from Warwickshire County Council Trading Standards as millions of sun-worshipers take to the skies for their annual holiday.

Trading Standards Officers professional body, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is warning holidaymakers not to let their guard down.

Warwickshire County Councillor Andy Crump, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety said: “Trading Standards are concerned that holidaymakers are still being approached whilst abroad and enticed by offers of further holiday accommodation opportunities to encourage them to attend ‘presentations’ selling timeshare, holiday ownership or discount holiday clubs.”

Trading Standards and CTSI advise consumers to be wary about attending such presentations, where they may be subjected to pressure sales, which could lead to them parting with large sums of money.

Consumers need to be aware that the cost of timeshare is not just a one-off payment, but there are additional monthly maintenance fees on top, and these may increase significantly over time.”

The European Union has specific legislation covering the sale of timeshare and other holiday products, and there are strict rules about the way in which the sales can be carried out. These include the requirement to give consumers key information and cancellation rights, and the prohibition of any upfront deposits being taken.

CTSI Lead Officer for Fair Trading, Sylvia Rook, added: “It is easy to get caught up in the dream of potentially ‘owning’ part of a beautiful resort, or accessing cheap holidays, but if you are asked to part with a large sum of money, it is always important to check the details of the offer carefully and seek legal advice before signing anything. Sleep on it before making any important financial decisions, which may tie you in to monthly, or annual, fees for many years to come.”

Although consumers are becoming more aware of timeshare ‘scams’, there is a growing area of concern over businesses offering assistance on how to get out of timeshare contracts. Timeshare is far less popular than it used to be, and many people who bought timeshare in the 1980s now wish to exit their agreement, either because they are no longer in a position to travel abroad, can no longer afford the maintenance fees because of their advancing years, or because they do not want to burden their family with the potential problem of disposal in the future. As a consequence, there is now very little demand by consumers to buy timeshare on the resale market, which is why such companies have sprung up to ‘assist’ consumers wishing to exit their agreements.

Many businesses who used to sell timeshare have now rebranded themselves as businesses that will help consumers exit their timeshare, often at a very high cost, and CTSI would advise consumers to be very wary about using any such company, without carrying out their own research fully. In particular consumers should check the terms for exit with their timeshare company first, as many timeshare companies will allow the consumer to walk away from their agreement after paying a number of maintenance payments, and this will often cost substantially less than the fees the exit companies charge. Watch out for businesses who offer to sell you additional products, such as discount clubs, alongside the service they are offering, and certainly do not agree to enter into an new timeshare agreement to offset the old one.

Don’t be misled into believing that all firms who use the term ‘lawyers’ in their name are actually solicitors, as the term has no legal definition; you can check if a business is in the official directory of solicitors by looking on the Law Society website. Finally, always make sure you know exactly what you are agreeing to, and paying for, before you enter into a contract.

Trading standards are aware of a growing number of complaints regarding timeshare, particularly in relation to holiday clubs, timeshare resale, and exit companies, with over 800 complaints received nationally in the last 12 months, often with substantial sums of money being involved.

CTSI Director of Operations, Andy Allen, says, “Despite the falling popularity of traditional timeshare products the UK European Consumer Centre service continues to be contacted by large numbers of consumers who have lost significant amounts of money to timeshare related scams. Rogue companies have continually evolved their products in an attempt to evade the protection offered by consumer protection legislation, and they have also been very clever at developing a variety of guises, the specialist claims ‘lawyer’ being one of them, in order to further target timeshare owners.”

Even whilst you are in the UK you may be approached by someone offering an ‘investment opportunity’ in relation to so-called UK based timeshare ‘lodges’. The same timeshare laws apply in the UK, but always remember to carry out your own research, and certainly do not make a substantial investment for a percentage share in such a property without taking independent legal advice.

Anyone with concerns about timeshare or resale companies is advised to contact Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or Action Fraud on 0300 123 2050.

Tobacco crime – not to be sniffed at

Over 7 million illegal cigarettes and 478 kg of hand rolling tobacco have been seized by local Trading Standards within the Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CEnTSA), Warwickshire County Council’s Trading Standards Service can report.

The cigarettes and tobacco were seized in the last financial year (2017/2018) with a loss to the tax payer of nearly £2million. The total retail value of the illegal goods is estimated to be worth in excess of £3million. The amount of illegal product seized has increased year on year in recent years, with the amount of illegal cigarettes seized last year being almost 30% higher than a record seizure figure the previous year.

The seizures were often well hidden, in sophisticated concealments using electronic magnets controlled by a switch, hydraulic compartments in floors, false back to a fridge, as well as cavity wall compartments. Such hiding places are difficult to detect without the aid of specialist tobacco sniffer dogs.

All offending businesses are subject to criminal investigation, with some traders already being successfully prosecuted. Some have received financial penalties, others, suspended prison sentences and community orders.

In addition, some shops have had their alcohol licences suspended or revoked for dealing with illegal tobacco products.

Warwickshire County Councillor Andy Crump, Portfolio Holder for Community Safety said: “Far from being a victimless crime, the illegal tobacco trade creates a cheap source for children and young people. Whilst all tobacco is harmful, the illegal tobacco market, and in particular the availability of cheap cigarettes, undermines government health policies aimed at reducing the cost to the NHS of treating diseases caused by smoking. The loss to the tax payer means less money being spent on local communities, schools and the NHS.’’

Bob Charnley, Chairman of CEnTSA said: ‘‘More and more people over the past few years have decided enough is enough and are providing information to Trading Standards, to stop local criminals selling and distributing illegal tobacco. Combating illegal tobacco has become an increasing priority for Trading Standards. The illegal tobacco trade has strong links with crime and criminal gangs, including drug dealing, money laundering, people trafficking and even terrorism. Selling illegal tobacco is a crime.”

Mr Charnley added ‘‘retailers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their approach, adapting their methods in order to avoid detection. Some businesses had gone to great lengths to conceal the illegal tobacco in secret compartments, including hydraulic lifts in floors, false walls and fridges. You may hide it, but we will find it.’’

Illegal tobacco products can usually be easily recognised. They will be very cheap, often less than half the price of legitimate packets and often have foreign writing on them.

Anyone being offered cheap tobacco or any other types of illicit goods should report it to Trading Standards by calling the CEnTSA’s confidential fakes hotline on 0300 303 2636.