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European network will target email and internet scams

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Email, phone, prize draw and web shopping scams are being targeted by a new coalition of European consumer groups for the first time. The bulk of the Consumer Protection Co-Operation (CPC) Regulation came into force across Europe on 29th December.

Designed to tackle cross-border schemes to defraud consumers, the CPC Regulation focuses on some emerging scams, such as those using email and phone calls to mislead consumers.

"Crooks and fraudsters who prey on unsuspecting consumers are the lowest of the low," said Ian McCartney, the Consumer Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). "No longer will they be able to rip off large numbers of people and then hide behind borders, beyond the reach of the enforcers."

The CPC Regulation was passed in 2004 in order to create a network of consumer protection and public enforcement bodies to prevent people using borders as a barrier to their discovery, though it applies only to intra-Community infringements of consumer protection legislation.

In the UK the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been chosen as the authority which will be the UK's arm of the network. Each body has new powers to engage in cross border investigations of rogue traders. The OFT performs that function in the UK already.

"We believe that CPC will improve the effectiveness and enforcement of consumer legislation across Europe," John Fingleton, OFT chief executive, said when it was appointed the UK's authority. "We particularly welcome the fact that member states will now find it easier to request action overseas on behalf of consumers. This is all the more important as a great many consumers make cross-border purchases over the internet, or buy goods when travelling abroad."

The network will investigate traditional activity such as the dishonest selling of time share and holiday club products, but many of the target activities depend on new communication methods, such as email and phone scams and illegal prize draws that can be advertised and conducted online.

"Joined up enforcement across the EU will help to stamp out scams and leave the sharks with nowhere to hide," said McCartney. "Consumers can then have greater confidence, while legitimate businesses are protected from rogues in the marketplace."

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OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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