Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Protecting yourself

Protecting yourself

How to protect yourself against scams

You can reduce your chances of being swindled by knowing who it is you are dealing with. This will help to protect you against getting involved with scam operators who set up companies, rack up debts then close up shop, leaving their debts behind. There are certain things to bear in mind when trying to protect yourself against scams.

  • Ask for the name of the person you are speaking to and who they represent. Independently verify any claims made by a sales person, investment adviser or advertisement.
  • Take notes of conversations, including dates, times, names and important points.
  • Ask for an explanation of anything you don't understand.
  • Read letters carefully and seek professional help (e.g. an accountant or a solicitor) if significant money, time or responsibilities are involved.
  • If you want to check out the bona fides of a company, contact Companies House or the Financial Services Authority.
  • Make sure that any company you deal with complies with the applicable legislation. (In the UK, all companies must be registered with Companies House.)
  • Only do business with companies you know and trust.
  • Make sure you fully understand all the terms and conditions of any offer made to you.
  • Take your time before you make any decision.
  • Don't provide any financial or other personal information before you establish whether the company is legitimate.
  • Understand and monitor your investments and ask frequent questions and map out your financial goals before you meet with a financial planner.
  • Don't judge the credibility of a company or sales person by how 'professional' they or their promotional material or website seems.
  • Don't fall for high-pressure sales tactics.
  • Don't let embarrassment or fear keep you from reporting fraud or abuse to the appropriate authorities.
  • Don't ever be afraid to ask questions. In fact, the more questions you ask, the better.
  • In all situations, the old maxim applies: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Useful contacts against scams

The following organisations can also be of assistance:

Advertising Standards Authority

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) may be contacted with complaints about any misleading promotions, as they may be in breach of the British Advertising Codes. The Advertising Codes are written and maintained by two industry bodies, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP). CAP is responsible for the non-broadcast Code and BCAP is responsible for the TV and radio Codes.

If a complaint is upheld, the advertiser is asked to amend their mailings. Should the advertiser fail to comply, CAP may also circulate an Ad Alert to members in the direct marketing industry, asking them to check advertising by the company with the CAP Copy Advice team before carrying their mailings.

If you wish to pursue a complaint about a misleading promotion you have received, you can write to the ASA describing clearly why you think the mailing is misleading, and enclosing the original mailing envelope (if possible).

Companies House

Companies House has three main functions:

  • The incorporation, re-registration and dissolving of companies.
  • The registration of documents that must be filed under the Companies Acts and related legislation.
  • The provision of company information to the public - for this purpose, Companies House enforces compliance with legal requirements.

Companies House's main office is in Cardiff (see below) but they have offices in each of the countries within the UK.

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is responsible for legislative regulation of competitions and lotteries. They advise the public that where there is doubt about the authenticity of any particular scheme, they should not participate in it. If you want to take it further, pass it on to the police for possible investigation. The police are the enforcement authority on these matters; they investigate allegations of fraud or dishonesty.

Schemes which ask you to send money to people on a list then add your own name to the list and send out more copies of the letter are probably illegal under the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976. The DCMS has responsibility for the legislation.

However, the law in this area is complex and only a court can say authoritatively whether a particular scheme is unlawful.

The Prudential Regulation Authority

The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) is the statutory regulator responsible for regulation and supervision of banks, building societies, credit unions, insurers and major investment firms. It sets standards and supervises financial institutions at the level of the individual firm. It is part of the Bank of England.

Phone-paid Services Authority

The Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA) regulates all content, goods and services charged to your phone bill - such as competitions, TV voting, helplines, adult entertainment, music or games.

The PSA's purpose is to establish, maintain and ensure compliance with appropriate standards of protection for users of premium rate information and entertainment services, and in doing so, contribute towards the development of the industry. It can investigate complaints and has the power to fine companies and bar access to services. In addition, it offers free advice and guidance to both existing and new service providers.

The Information Commissioner's Office

The Information Commissioner's Office enforces the regulations relating to telephone, email and SMS marketing.

The Competition and Markets Authority

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has an interest in 'scam' mailings that originate outside of the United Kingdom. You can contact them to complain about these mailings or to forward unwanted unsolicited mailings that you consider to be misleading or deceptive.

The CMA can pursue dishonest traders operating from other member states of the European Community. It has the power to seek an injunction to enforce existing consumer protection legislation emanating from European Directives. This includes law on misleading advertising.

Where the seller is based outside Europe, the CMA work with their counterparts overseas, under the auspices of the International Marketing Supervision Network. Their principal objective is to encourage practical action, through the co-operation of national regulatory bodies, to prevent and remedy cross-border marketing malpractices.

The Intellectual Property Office

The role of the Intellectual Property Office is to stimulate innovation and enhance the international competitiveness of British industry and commerce. It provides a system, both national and international, for granting intellectual property rights.

Trading Standards Departments and Citizens Advice Bureau

The Citizens Advice Bureau works in partnership with Local Authority Trading Standards Services. They refer case details of scams and dishonest sellers to the relevant Trading Standards Service, so that they can take appropriate action. They also maintain a central database of all cases which allows Trading Standards Services to identify scams earlier, and ensure action is taken promptly.

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