Thursday 23 April 2009

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice

I got an email from saying that I had won $2,741.88.

The email contained what looked like official forms about the payment. When I clicked on the link to claim my prize it went to a web page which wanted my credit card details.

Should I be suspicious?

Yes, you most certainly SHOULD be suspicious. The first clue is in the name of the company that contacted you. Lotteries are never free. Not ever. Real, genuine lotteries charge you for buying a ticket. Always, without exception. A company that implies the opposite is trying to trick you. Anyone who tells you that without actually spending some money on a ticket, you’ve won something is trying to deceive you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lottery, a holiday club or timeshare or anything else, they’re conning you.

Your email is more than just a simple fake lottery scam though, it’s much more interesting. Your email contained what claimed to be a “Warehouse Release Shipping Request” from a company calling itself “Crown Imports International”.

Look at the spelling mistake and the poor grammar. Would a real shipping company have a form like this with mistakes in it? Read it more closely for the interesting parts.

The shipping request includes describes the prize as “one of the merchandise listed herein”. Yes, it mentions the money but doesn't that make you think that the money isn’t really there?

Later in the email there's a link you are meant to click to process your so-called prize. When you click this link guess what happens? Does a web page appear confirming your prize, offering you nearly $3,000? Not a chance. The link opens a web page asking for your money.

Here's the essence of the scam. Before they give you anything you have to give them YOUR money. Again do you notice how the web page doesn't actually say that you're going to get that money? it says you'll get the money or “my merchandise”. It doesn’t clearly state what you'll actually get.

However it's not difficult to find out that you're not going to get the cash. One of the links showed the Terms and Conditions of this con. It contained phrases like “Each individual who responds will be purchasing one of the items offered”. See how you haven't won anything, you're actually “purchasing” an item?

Also hidden away on the web site there is a series of Questions and Answers. One says:
When did I win this prize?

You did not win a prize. You have been pre-selected from a limited universe of names to participate in an international publicity program to promote certain quality consumer products that retail for a lot more.
And finally, there is a page which actually tells you what you're “buying”. You look up the code number 552584 and you find that you've won something from the “Paretti Diamond Jewelry Collection”. Don't get too excited, there isn't a diamond in sight. Paretti jewellery is the cheapest, nastiest rubbish available. Even if these crooks send you anything at all, all you'll get is a worthless piece of junk you'd be too ashamed to wear.

But whatever you do, don't send them any money. This most certainly IS a scam and the guys running it are shameless. In 2006 the British Advertising Standards Authority investigated Crown Imports International. Their ruling stated that the company “misleadingly implied recipients would receive a valuable item if they responded to the promotion” and told them never to do it again.

It's the same story we hear over and over again. A scam is found in the USA, Europe or Australia, the authorities investigate it, ban the scammers from doing it again and all they do is move their attention to Africa, thinking they can fool us more easily. The bad news is that they probably can. We don't have any real enforcement from our authorities, they don't seem to care about these things. Surely if they cared they would warn us about these scams in the press, the radio and the TV?

The good news is that The Voice and Consumer Watchdog are here to do it instead.

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