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WARNING: Your New Year resolution puts you at risk of rip-offs!

2 Jan 2014

People looking to get fit, lose weight, meet someone special or take up a new hobby in 2014 should look out for scams and rip-offs, say Citizens Advice Scotland.

The charity says the first few weeks of the year tend to bring an increase in cases of people who have been scammed over their New Years Resolutions.  Last January/February for example the CAB network saw more than double the usual number of people reporting problems with slimming services, and a 25% hike in complaints about health clubs and gyms.

So as Scots look to buy services that will help them achieve their New Year's resolutions, CAS has warned them to be on the look-out for dodgy deals and rogue retailers.

Complaints made to the Citizens Advice Consumer service last year included:

  • one slimmer who was 'guaranteed' she would lose three inches from her waist through a slimming machine.  She did not shed anything, and when she asked for a refund the money-back 'guarantee' failed to materialise.
  • Another complained of being let down by their liposuction providers as the trader disappeared after just three sessions – even though she had paid in advance for more. 
  • We also heard cases of an online dating website which took peoples' bank details, despite offering a supposedly 'free' trial, and then took hundreds of pounds from their accounts, before disappearing.  
  • Other daters were scammed by people they actually met on dating sites. e.g. one woman sent over £1,000 to a man who said he needed the money to get out of the US army so they could be together. After a few payments she never heard from him again.
  • Another client told us he'd joined a gym, which then charged him a huge cancellation fee when he had to move home. Other gyms have continued charging people after cancellation.
  • A number of people reported problems with supposedly free or 'small-fee' trials for diet pills, when in fact the companies went on to take up to £100 from their bank account without their permission.
  • More 'basic' scams included people buying DIY tools, musical instruments, sporting equipment, anti-smoking kits, 'learn-a-language' tapes etc. that turned out to be faulty, and not getting suitable re-funds. 

Sarah Beattie-Smith, Consumer spokesperson for Citizens Advice Scotland, says

“It's a real shame, but there are lots of bad businesses and scammers out there, who are waiting to prey on people's good intentions for 2014. So our message to everyone who has made a resolution is: Well done, and we wish you all the best with it. But just keep your eyes open and look out for scams and con-artists. And if you do get ripped-off, REPORT it – so they can't go and scam other people too!

“If you're signing up to a gym or a dating site or any new service, make sure you read all the terms and conditions. If you think something is unfair, like mid-contract price rises, then you can ask the company about it, or get advice from someone independent.  Equally, you should to check out any company you are dealing with, to make sure they are reputable. Above all, never give your personal or bank details to anyone unless you are 100% sure they are genuine and mean no harm. 

“The CAB service now has an enhanced role in protecting and advising consumers. If you are uncertain about something you are about to buy, or if you have been scammed and want to report it, you can get advice at your local CAB or contact our special consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or www.citizensadvice.org.uk.”

CAS offers the following advice on scams and rip-offs. 

Signs of a Scam

  • The call, letter, e-mail or text has come out of the blue.
  • They are asking you to send money in advance.
  • They are saying you have to respond quickly, so you don't get time to think about it or ask family and friends before you decide.
  • They are telling you to keep it a secret.
  • They seem to be offering you something for nothing. If it seems too good to be true – it probably is.  

How to protect yourself better

  • Never give out contact details like your name, phone number or address to strangers or to people who should have this information already.
  • In particular, NEVER give your financial information or details of your identity, bank accounts or credit card to strangers or to businesses that should already hold your details.
  • Shred anything with your personal or bank details on it – don't just throw it away.
  • If in doubt, don't reply. Bin it, delete it or hang up.
  • If you are interested, resist pressure to make a decision straight away. Get advice from friends, neighbours etc first. If the seller discourages this, that's a sure sign they have something to hide.
  • Always read the small print of any deal before you sign. If in doubt about anything, ask for clarification – and get advice from a third party (friend, neighbour etc).
  • Never send money to someone you don't know.

What to do if you have been scammed

  • Report it! Don't let them scam others. You can report it and also get advice through the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or get our online advice at www.citizensadvice.org.uk
  • And SPREAD THE WORD. Tell people you know, and mention it on twitter etc, so other people are not scammed too.
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