By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Newtownabbey CAB
Q: I am a pensioner on low income and I have received a letter which says I have won a lottery prize of £100,000. The letter looks very official, but I need to ring a number beginning 090 to claim the prize. I have not entered any lottery, so what should I do?
A: You get a letter, email, phone call or text message that promises you an exciting prize or reward. To claim it, you have to phone a premium rate number beginning 090. However, the automated message you hear when you call the number tricks you into staying on the line for a long time.
Usually there isn’t really a prize, or the prize you receive turns out to be a near-worthless book of discount vouchers, or a holiday voucher with stringent restrictions. You’ll often have to pay more money to use the ‘prize’ on top of the cost of the phone call.
The longer you stay on the line, the more money the scammers make from you. Your prize or reward may never turn up or it will turn out to be an item worth less than the cost of your call.
While many genuine companies use premium rate telephone numbers, they make it clear in their advertising, paperwork or during the call how much the call costs per minute. They may also provide alternative methods of contacting them.
How to protect yourself...
• don’t dial premium rate numbers beginning 090 unless you know how much you’ll be charged and you’re sure you’re willing to pay for it. Costs can be up to £2.60 per minute or more from mobiles
• beware if after dialling one of these numbers, a message tells you to dial a second number
• if you become suspicious about the call, hang up immediately
• consider asking your phone company to bar outgoing calls from your phone to premium rate services and/or international rate numbers, especially if others use your phone. Some companies charge for this call-barring service
• protect your phone number in the same way as you would your PIN number. Only give it out if you’re absolutely sure that it’s needed and the information is secure.
• if it sounds too good to be true it probably is - if you haven’t bought a ticket you can’t win
• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau or log on to www.adviceguide.org.uk
Call Newtownabbey CAB, Dunanney Centre, Rathcoole on 028 9085 2271 or email firstname.lastname@example.org