A ‘suckers list’ containing the names and personal details of around 10,000 people is being used by fraudsters to sell them worthless shares, the financial watchdog and City of London Police have warned.
The Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the police have now written to 6,500 homes on the list, to warn them they could be targeted by boiler room fraudsters using high pressure sales tactics to con them into buying non-tradable, overpriced or even non-existent shares.
Boiler rooms are unauthorised, overseas-based companies with bogus UK addresses and phone lines routed abroad. Because these companies are not authorised, anyone who falls victim cannot claim compensation from the Financial Services Ombudsman.
Det Chief Supt Steve Head, head of the City of London Police's economic crime directorate, says it launched an operation to warn potential victims after the list was seized because of serious concerns that it was being circulated among fraudsters.
"We are all potential victims for fraudsters and need to be aware of the heartless way they operate,” he adds."Intelligence suggests that this list of people from across the UK is currently being shared amongst boiler rooms.”
These scams cost UK victims an estimated £200 million a year.
The news comes as the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) launches a new campaign urging people to be on their guard against scammers, who are using increasingly sophisticated methods to part innocent people from their money.
Around four million adults have responded to a scam at some time in their life - including two million in the past 12 months - with around a third losing money, the OFT says. Nearly half of those scammed have lost more than £50, with 5% parting with more than £5,000.
Email is now the most common approach by scammers, with 73% of adults receiving a bogus email in the past year. Text messages and social networking sites are also increasingly popular ways for scammers to target their victims.
"Scammers are using ever more sophisticated and cunning tactics to dupe people out of their cash,” warns John Fingleton, chief executive of the OFT.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Victim Support, adds: “Scams can have a devastating impact on people's lives. Stigma or embarrassment can wrongly make victims think they are to blame, and discourage them from reporting these crimes or seeking help.”
This year's Scams Awareness Month is seeking to raise awareness of the scale of the problem with a nationwide 'Scamnesty' run in partnership with 129 local authority Trading Standards Services.
The campaign calls on consumers to drop scam mailings they have received into designated 'Scamnesty' bins or boxes at local libraries and public areas across the country. You can find your nearest bin by doing a postcode search on the Consumer Direct Scamnesty website.
Beat boiler-room scams
• Hang up on anyone who cold calls offering you shares.
• You can find a list of known boiler-room scams on the FSA’s website.
• If you have already been contacted by a boiler room, do not give them any money or information. Contact the FSA and City of London Police consumer helpline on 0845 602 2185.
• Stop, think and be sceptical. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
• Do not be rushed into sending off money to someone you do not know, however plausible they might sound and even where an approach is personalised.
• Ask yourself how likely it is that you have been especially chosen for this offer - thousands of other people will probably have received the same offer.
• Think about how much money you could lose from replying to a potential scam - it's not a gamble worth taking.
• If you are unsure of an offer, you can seek advice from Consumer Direct.
• If you have fallen for a scam, then you can get help from Victim Support in complete confidence on 0845 30 30 900 (England and Wales) or 0845 603 9213 (in Scotland).