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The Office of Fair Trading has sent out thousands of fake scam text messages to 18-24 year-old mobile phone users to raise awareness about scams.

The text message, sent out on 15 February 2008 as part of Scams Awareness Month, reads: "Urgent! U may have won £1k cash with '2 Good 2 B True.'" It is followed shortly afterwards by a second text that makes clear that there is in fact no prize and that the message has been sent by the OFT to warn about scams.

The message also highlights SMSus, a new text message service launched by PhonePayPlus, the phone-paid service regulator. SMSus allows users to text details of a premium rate number or shortcode and receive an automatic reply with the cost of the number, details of the service provider, how to contact them and how to complain if necessary.

A spokesperson for the OFT told GC News that it targets the young people by using details provided by PhonePayPlus. The people had previously opted in to receive promotional messages and updates from the regulator.

The OFT estimates that about six per cent of all scam victims are aged between 15-24, losing money to a variety of mass-marketed scams each year.

Mike Haley, director of consumer protection at the OFT, said: "Young people can fall for exactly the same types of scam as anyone else, often delivered through the latest technology. We hope that our innovative approach of sending fake scam text messages will remind young consumers to be on their guard if they receive a suspicious offer."

Trays O'Reilly, director of standards and communications at PhonePayPlus said: "More and more people are using mobile phones to pay for a range of products and services and in most instances this happens without problems. Our job is to crack down on scams and other misbehaviour when it occurs so that everyone can use phone-paid services with confidence."

Scams Awareness Month is part of an annual international initiative organised by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network. The OFT is treating mass-marketed scams as a priority. In 2005 the OFT launched a Scambusters team and set up the Scams Enforcement Group with partner organisations focusing on law enforcement, consumer education, and disruption of scammers' routes to market.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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