Over 38,000 investors will be contacted by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) after the City watchdog recovered what could be the largest "suckers list" ever found.
The master list, used by fraudsters to cold-call unsuspecting individuals and offer them worthless shares, contains the names and addresses of 38,242 people.
The largest concentration of addresses is in and around London and the South East although a “significant number” of those targeted live in Yorkshire and Lancashire, the FSA has warned.
The list was uncovered by US authorities and handed over to the regulator, which believes it is still being actively used. The FSA’s unauthorised business division is now sending out letters to those affected.
Jonathan Phelan, head of the unauthorised business department at the FSA, says: "This is the biggest list we've ever recovered and, by acting quickly and contacting every single person on it, we're hoping we can stop people losing money.
"Boiler-room fraudsters often sound professional so it's easy to be drawn in by their overblown claims and give them money to invest. The reality is, however, that the shares are worthless or don't exist and the money is lost forever.
"Cold calling to sell shares is rarely allowed, so anybody who receives a call like this should be extremely sceptical."
Scammers work for unauthorised, overseas-based companies with bogus UK addresses and phone lines routed abroad.
They usually contact people by telephone and use high pressure sales tactics to con investors into buying non-tradable, overpriced or even non-existent shares.
The average person falling foul of these scams loses £24,000. However, as the firms are not regulated by the FSA, those duped by the fraudsters are not covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service and Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
Last year, the FSA received calls from more than 3,000 people who had been contacted by a scammer, of which 734 had lost money.
Avoid falling foul of boiler room scams by following these simple rules:
- Hang up the phone if you are called out of the blue by a person offering to sell you shares.
- Have a look at the company's website, while it may look professional it probably won't tell you much in terms of how the company is run.
- Check the FSA register to see if the person selling shares is authorised to do so.
- Call the company back using the details on the register to verify their identity.
- Report any company cold calling you to the FSA or the police
Finally, don't feel like you have to give these scammers a fair hearing. They may come across as polite and well-meaning, but their prime concern is taking your money. Be firm with them and get them off the phone.
One of our readers was targeted by cold-callers, visit his blog to read about his experience.
Anybody who thinks they may have been targeted by a boiler room should call the FSA’s customer contact centre on 0845 606 1234.