Report reveals how Norwich people are being targeted by conmen

People in Norwich are being targeted with increasingly sophisticated cons by crooks targeting families and businesses.

To tackle the problem, the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has launched a campaign called Spot the Scam to build up a picture of Norwich's most prevalent rip-offs.

Jan Ainsley, social policy co-ordinator at Norwich CAB, said: 'Debt is enough to drive most people to distraction and then you get a phone call or email saying 'trust me, I can help solve your debt problem'.'

Mrs Ainsley predicted debt fraudsters would grow in number with the country's economic woes.

A questionnaire filled out by hundreds of people reveals Norwich families' greatest fears are:

fake job offers: in the scramble for work, jobseekers are paying upfront fees for work which does not exist.

The CAB came across one 27-year-old Polish woman who lost �930 after being offered a job as a cleaner on the internet. Her fake employer asked her to transfer money and told her she would be paid back in travellers' cheques. The cheques bounced.

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•Fraudulent Prizes

Criminals are sending fake prize draws through the post, telling the 'winner' they are in line for payouts, sometimes worth millions of pounds. To claim the prize, the victim had to send an administration fee back to the fraudster.

Teresa Haxell from Norfolk Trading Standards said fraudsters were now carrying the con out more and more over the phone. One elderly Norfolk woman lost more than �100,000 through a Canadian competition con.

Another 77-year-old man with debt problems received a letter saying he had won �172,000 and had to pay a �20 administration fee.

Mrs Haxell said: 'Once you reply you go on a list and they (the con artists) keep getting back to you.

'They look so realistic. They sound so genuine and very believeable and caring.

'If you are more vulnerable, you are going to fall for it more.

'It has a huge impact on everybody and often the victim keeps it secret. They are embarrassed.'

Mrs Haxell also said trading standards were now getting a lot of reports about cold-calling con artists who phone their victims and pretend there is a problem with their computer. They then pretend to fix the problem and ask the computer's owner for their bank details for payment.

People have also complained about being ripped off by companies which claim they can save them money, but leave the consumer with higher bills.

One man changed his mobile phone dealer for a cheaper contract. The bills were supposed to be split between him and the retailer but the retailer failed to pay their share and the phone company threatened to sue him for missing �1,200 in fees.

Firms claim they will clear debt worries but take huge amounts in fees, leading the debtor further into the red.

Many of the con artists targeting Norwich are based abroad making it difficult for them to be traced or brought to justice.

But they can be beaten.

Teresa Haxell from Norfolk Trading Standards said: 'Think before you part with your money, particularly with bank details. Check it out with family or friends for further advice. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

'It is not just consumers who are vulnerable to scams. A lot of scams are aimed at businesses.'

For more advice ring Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06.