Beauty scams are targeting women, promising them free beauty products in order to reel them in and take their money. They are asked to simply pay for delivery, but the firm behind the offer then deducts enormous sums from their accounts - one woman lost £175.
The beauty scam is a variation on the 'continuous payment authority' scam. The 'continuous payment authority' is a perfectly legal tool, which is used to take money from your account on a regular basis. It is how many companies legitimately take money from your account to pay for things like gym membership, club membership and magazine subscriptions.
The scams are simply designed to con you into signing up for one without you being aware of it. You are offered freebies for anything from beauty cream to diet pills, and are asked to pay a small sum for postage. The website will point to a section with reams of small print, and because customers are highly unlikely to wade through all this small print, they don't realise that by entering their debit or credit card details they have accidentally agreed to them taking regular sums.
In most cases, the company will continue taking money from your card until you spot it and put a stop to it - or you run out of cash.
These scams are alarmingly prevalent. In the six months to October 2014, callers to the Citizens Advise Customer Service Helpline lost £465,000 to slimming pill 'free trial' scams, and on average each caller lost £150.
The only way to avoid falling into this trap is to ensure you always read the small print. If there is far too much of it to wade through, then the simple answer is just not to sign up for the 'deal'.
If you are too late, and you find you have signed up to a continuous payment authority, then don't waste your time trying to get in touch with the companies. In many cases they will make this as hard as possible. Instead, you can just contact your bank and cancel it immediately. Until 2009 this wasn't possible, but rules introduced then mean your bank has to cancel when you ask them to.
If your bank tries to tell you to go back to the retailer, quote regulation 55 of the Payment Services Regulations 2009, which says you don't have to inform the retailer before cancelling.
It's also important to keep a record of when you make this request. You can do it online, by letter, or over the phone, but always keep a note of exactly when you sent the request, because if any money comes out of your account after this date, the bank must reimburse you (under regulation 61).
If you didn't realise what you were signing up to, you can also get a refund from your bank under the chargeback arrangement (as long as the money wasn't taken more than 120 days earlier). It's then up to the bank to get the cash back from the scammers.