Scams and warnings

How to recognise and beat the scammers

Email alert poster.

About half the adult population is likely to have been targeted by a scam. One in 15 has fallen victim, with a total estimated loss of about £3.5 billion per year. This is about £70 for each adult living in the UK. These scams use low-cost, mass-marketing techniques to target people.

Many of these scams start overseas, making them difficult to trace and close down, even with International Law Enforcement co-operation.

How to recognise a scam

Avoid getting the phone calls

If you don't want to get sales and marketing calls, you should register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) which has a central opt out register covering individuals and companies. By law, companies cannot call numbers registered on the TPS. This service is free of charge. For further information visit the Telephone Preference Service website.

Businesses - How to protect your staff

Audit your systems/procedures for invoicing and payment to make sure you are protected. Here are some specific actions you could consider taking to prevent you from becoming the victim of a scam or to help if you are already being targeted by a rogue company.

Telephone calls

Do not agree to place an advert over the phone unless you are dealing with a business that you have rung because you want to do business with them. If someone calls you, insist on seeing written details and a copy of the publisher's full terms and conditions before placing an order. Some victims have received a string of calls that have become increasingly threatening and abusive. Try to keep a record of such calls - time, date, name of caller, and a note of what was said. Always know who you are speaking to. By law, any callers should identify themselves and the company from which they are calling. Be particularly wary if the initial caller transfers you to someone else during the call and always ask the next person you speak to for his name, the name of the company, in which department he works and his contact number. If the person you are speaking to cannot, or will not, provide these details, or if he becomes abusive, end the call straight away. If it is claimed that there is a tape recording proving that an order has been placed, ask for a copy of it.

Demand letters

If you receive demands for payments for something you believe you have not ordered, it is well worth taking a few minutes to send a written reply, stating clearly why you feel you do not owe any money. Always keep a copy for your records.

Threats to seize goods

Some victims have been threatened with having their goods or belongings seized to pay the alleged 'debt'. The only lawful way the publisher can do this is to get an order in the county court, instructing you to pay (for which there has to be a hearing where you can attend and defend yourself). Then, if you do not pay, the publisher must go back to court for a warrant which allows them to seize goods to the value of the debt.

Threats of court action

Victims are known to have received letters which have stated, "..... this is your last chance to pay, attached is a summons we have obtained to take you to court if you do not pay now .....". The document that accompanied such letters is not a summons but a copy of the application form that must be submitted to a county court to ask for a hearing. Some victims have been limited companies and the rogue publisher involved threatened to start insolvency proceedings by applying to the courts for a 'winding up order'. In most cases, the threat was an empty one because such proceedings can only be started for debts of more than £750 and the amount owed was less than that. It is useful to remember that it would cost the rogue publisher money to take you to court, often much more than it claims you owe. The rogue publisher will have to prove that you owe the money before the court can make a decision against you, and you will have the chance to defend yourself. Rogue publishers will not spend money chasing a false debt; they are much more likely to look for another victim who will pay up without a fuss. Take independent legal advice if you are in any doubt.

Publishing/marketing company questionnaire 

To be completed by all staff taking calls by telephone. 

Here are some questions you can ask if you are 'cold called' by a publishing company you have never dealt with before. The answers will help you to decide whether you want to do business with them, and may help to protect you if they try to operate some sort of scam. 

  • How did you get my / our contact details? 
  • What is your name? 
  • What is your contact number? 
  • What is the name of your company? 
  • What is your company address (or where are you based)? 
  • What is the name of the publication in which you want me to place an advert? 
  • What type of publication is it (wall planner, year book, other booklet)? 
  • How many copies will be printed? 
  • Where will they be distributed/circulated? 
  • How can I get hold of a copy of your publication? 
  • Is the publication being produced for of another organisation? YES / NO 
  • If YES, what is the name and address of that organisation? 
  • Is that organisation or your company a registered charity? YES / NO 
  • If YES, what is the registered number of the charity? 
  • If I agree to place an advert, what percentage will go to that charity? 
  • Make a note of the outcome of the call (did you agreed to an advert or not?) 


Trading standards - consumers

(via Citizens' Advice consumer helpline)

Email: [email protected]

Tel: 0808 223 1133


Open 9.00am–5.00pm Monday to Friday
(excluding bank holidays)

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