Cornwall Council Trading Standards Service and Devon and Cornwall Police are joining forces to tackle the problems of investment scams.
Also known as commodities fraud, investment scams involve fraudsters cold calling potential victims offering them the ‘opportunity’ to invest in unusual products such as plots of land (land banking), diamonds and other rare elements, wine or carbon credits. The customer is given misleading information about saleability and future value of these products which are then offered to them at greatly inflated prices.
By the time suspicions are roused, the trading company has disappeared and, with it, the victims’ hard-earned savings. Julia Groves, Trading Standards officer, said: “The quantities of money we are talking about with these scams is not just £20 or £30, but more like £10s of thousands, and can even reach the £100s of thousands, with victims losing their entire life savings.
"We work closely with our colleagues in the police and Scambusters teams to target these fraudsters but the advice is not to respond to approaches made via the telephone. Even asking for more information from these fraudsters can be dangerous, as they are likely to produce glossy looking sales brochures which may make you believe them to be genuine.“
DC Mark Heffer of Cornwall Financial Investigation Unit adds: “Over the last 12 months we have seen a number of victims being conned out of hundreds of thousands of pounds in bogus investment schemes including carbon credits, rare earth metals and share schemes. Before you enter into such schemes be wary and do a little bit of internet research. It may tip you off to the scam before you fall victim.”
Even when it is possible to locate the perpetrators of scams, this can take months and years of work.
Julia says: “It’s obviously devastating to be conned out of such large sums of money in this way, but the effect on elderly victims can be particularly harmful as they may suffer ill health as a result and can lose the confidence to continue to live independently.
"If anyone is thinking of making an investment, we would encourage them to seek independent financial advice from a company who is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority."
"More information such as checking the firm’s registration number can be obtained from them on telephone number 0800 111 6768 or via their website on email@example.com.
"Always remember that when an offer seems too good to be true, then it generally is. Some £3.5 billion is lost to scammers each year and recent information tells us that this figure is likely to be underestimated. Unfortunately the funds that are lost often go into financing illegal activities."
If anyone thinks they have been the victim of a scam, be it for a small or large amount, please report it via the Citizens Advice Consumer Centre on 08454 04 05 06, or report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 of via their website www.actionfraud.police.uk.
Julia adds: “And remember, if you have been caught by a fraudster once, be particularly vigilant not to fall for approaches offering to recover the money for you – this could again be a con.”