UK government begins crackdown on cyber scams

Each year, says the government, scams cost three million UK consumers around £3.5bn, and recent research from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) shows that email is now the most common scam approach, with 73% of adults having received a scam email in the past year.

Announcing the formation of a new specialist cyber enforcement team and extra funding for Trading Standards, Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan said that the internet is rapidly transforming the way we shop.

"It presents massive opportunities for consumers, but unfortunately it also harbours fraudsters who can leave consumers upset and out of pocket", he said.

"So as they get more sophisticated, we need to stay one step ahead. Our investment will help the OFT and Trading Standards to put in place the new specialist teams, training and technology required to take the fight to these criminals", he added.

According to the Minister, the government is investing £4.3m over three years in the initiative.

The OFT's team has already set up a fully equipped laboratory with specialist equipment and is being trained by an international expert.

This new functionality, he explained, adds to the OFT's capability across all of its enforcement work, from cartels to consumer protection cases.

Online scams the OFT teams will focus on will include fake products and ticket scams, as well as scam website that purport to sell goods that dupe consumers into making what appear to be bargain purchases, but consumers receive either nothing at all or counterfeit products.

Heather Clayton, a senior director of the OFT, said online consumer protection is a key priority for the OFT.

The enforcement team, she said, will be looking at the activities of a wide range of commercial websites and taking action in cases where consumers' rights are being abused.

"Ultimately, giving the public even greater confidence to shop online is what drives the activities of our enforcement team", she added.

Plans call for the OFT to co-ordinate which enforcer is best placed to take action on a particular issue and will focus on the most serious cyber scams.

Cases will continue to be passed to the police, as well as the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and Companies' house investigations branches when appropriate.

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