Warning about mock auctions rip-off (26/10/2006)

The public are being warned to steer clear of so-called "mock auctions" - sales that appear to be offering bargains but are in fact a rip off.

Westminster City Council's Trading Standards officers say these events become more numerous in the run up to Christmas, with their organisers often using empty retail premises.

A recent auction which took place in an empty shop on Oxford Street generated several complaints from angry shoppers.

Mock auctions are advertised through flyers and leaflets, with the reason for sale - and the bargains available - often given as being "liquidated stock" or "bankrupt business".

The sales pitch is extremely clever and the organisers never actually lie about what they are selling.

Typically enthusiasm to "bid" is whipped up by a front man with a microphone and an auctioneer's hammer. A selection of goods which will supposedly be on sale are often stacked by the stage.

Key to the success of these auctions is the planting of accomplices in the audience who appear to pick up quality goods at a bargain price, usually around £20.

But the goods they buy are for show and it comes to the real items for sale they are of very poor quality. Often the goods on sale are counterfeits.

For instance, a disgruntled member of the public handed Westminster's Trading Standards a cheap camera they had bought which had a weight attached inside to give the impression of quality.

By the time excitement has been generated, the people at the auction become bolder and begin to purchase more goods. Westminster Trading Standards estimate mock auctions make around £5000 a day, with some worthless goods going for around £200.

Councillor Audrey Lewis, Westminster City Council's Cabinet Member for Licensing and Community Protection, said: "Unfortunately many of these mock auctions take place in the run up to Christmas.

"While the goods on offer may appear to be bargains, the goods on sale are of poor quality.

"The events have been cleverly set up to prey on unsuspecting members of the public. I would urge anyone tempted by the idea they might be picking up a bargain for Christmas to be very carefully as they will not get their money back."

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For more information please call Tariq Tahir in Westminster City Council's Press Office on 0207 641 2259