Watch scams among con comebacks

Face of a watch
Image caption Watch scams were relatively common more than 10 years ago

Rogue traders are reprising old scams but with a digital twist to target people whose budgets are squeezed.

Reports to trading standards officers include the return of door-to-door watch sellers.

They offer designer timepieces for £50, even using websites to back up their claims of bargains, but the products are counterfeit.

Consumers have been urged to know their rights when sellers arrive unannounced at the door.

Job scams

The economic climate has created an environment for con-artists to prosper and trading standards officers say these rogues have stepped up their efforts.

Their targets include vulnerable young people who are searching for jobs, as well as older people who have been made redundant.

In May, Citizens Advice warned of phantom training courses that charge victims upfront for teaching which may not be available, or promises of a job at the end of it that is never forthcoming.

Now there are reports of retro scams making a comeback, sometimes variations of con-tricks used during previous downturns.

These include selling watches on the doorstep for £50 - similar to watch and leather jacket sales scams of more than 10 years ago.

Con-artists refer their victims to websites - usually just a front - which they say display the watch's recommended retail price of hundreds of pounds. But, in fact, these watches were counterfeit and could be bought for £5 online, said Adrian Simpson, a lead officer for the Trading Standards Institute (TSI).

He added that the salesmen used hackneyed stories, such as claiming that they were returning to Italy from a conference and needed to sell their products before they returned home.


He stressed that anyone selling any item for more than £35 during an unannounced visit to the door must give full written instructions of cancellation rights such as notice of a seven-day cooling off period.

Anyone who sold at the door without offering these rights would be committing a criminal offence and should be treated with scepticism, he said.

Image caption Consumer Minister Jo Swinson says that simpler regulations will give consumers more confidence

Reports remain relatively few in number, but were part of a general increase in scams at a time when household budgets were squeezed, he said. These included shoddy home improvements, such as cowboy driveway surfacing gangs and mass-marketing scams.

"People are more aware of scams, but the internet and social media are increasing the opportunities [for fraud]," he said.

Con-artists can send out thousands of emails at a fraction of the cost of letters, he said.

Yet many victims of such scams felt ashamed to report cases.

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson told the BBC News website that people were vulnerable to scams during difficult economic times.

She said that a national approach among trading standards officers was vital for spotting scam trends across the country, and consumer awareness was equally as important for preventing these scams from succeeding,

Earlier this month, the government published its draft Consumer Rights Bill which strives to clarify and update the regulations in place to protect consumers. The TSI has also unveiled a consumer codes scheme aimed at recognising trusted traders through approval schemes.

These would all give consumers greater confidence to fight for their rights and for genuine traders to flourish, Ms Swinson said.

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