As Scams Awareness Month progresses, Croydon Council’s trading standards team rips open the envelope on scams that arrive in the post, often promising great fortune to the (un)lucky recipient.
With 16% of scams reported to Action Fraud in 2015 arriving through domestic letter boxes, it is estimated that prize draw scams cost the UK public £60m per year.
Scams coming through the post can include a range of seemingly attractive propositions, such as competition offers, prize winning claims, fortune telling, catalogue scams or other formats. A common denominator is that they all ask the recipient to respond by paying a fee to trigger the release of promised information or winnings, or to avert bad luck.
It is not unknown for some victims, particularly older or vulnerable people, to receive hundreds of scam letters each week, leaving them feeling confused and intimidated.
Modern technology makes it very easy to mass-produce scam letters that look like personal correspondence or important documents, in the hope of tricking the recipient into sending cash, making money transfers or disclosing personal information, such as bank details.
Reports reach the trading standards team on a weekly basis of new victims of mass-marketed scam letters.
An elderly woman from Coulsdon has, for some weeks, been plagued by letters from psychics and clairvoyants. The letters are addressed to her by first name, adding an air of familiarity and making them appear friendly and engaging.
All the letters claim that they can provide her with the secret to achieving good luck and good fortune, forecasting that she will win a large prize.
The temptation is increased by the fact that the requested fee to achieve the good fortune is relatively small – typically between £25 and £40.
Over time, the woman has responded to a number of letters, resulting in her sending hundreds of pounds to the scammers.
A common ploy is for scammers to share the contact details of their victims with other con artists, and it is felt that this has happened in this case as she has subsequently become inundated with letters from clairvoyants and psychics from across the world.
The council’s trading standards officers are working with the resident to help end the scam mail being sent to her address.
Other recent incidences of mail scams in Croydon have seen letters promising a large pay-out following the death of somebody with the same surname as the letter’s recipient; and a scam that, over several months, saw one elderly resident on the verge of handing over the deeds to his house, having already lost all his savings, leaving him unable to afford to buy food for himself.
Councillor Hamida Ali, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“Sadly, the Coulsdon resident’s case is a good indicator of a kind of scam that’s all too common.
“Every year, trading standards officers and police identify hundreds of victims of this kind of scam, many of whom have trustingly handed over large sums to the heartless rogues behind them.
“It’s hoped that, through the channel of Scams Awareness Month, more people will learn of the ways and means by which these merciless crooks take advantage of people without a thought for the misery and hardship their actions cause.
“Fortunately, this case came to light before the victim lost too much but, had the scam gone on unchecked, there was the very real possibility of her losing her life savings – or more.”
Croydon’s trading standards officers are working with the National Trading Standards scams team, to help local victims. The team is contacting residents who have responded to scams, advising them that their details are being used by rogues to send scam mail to them. The team is offering tips and advice to help residents protect themselves from scams.
Top five tips to avoid mail scams
1. Never send money to a company in order to claim a prize or winnings.
2. Watch out for letters with too-good-to-be-true offers, it’s probably a scam.
3. Don’t disclose personal information to people or companies you do not know.
4. If you get a lot of mail, get a trusted friend or family member to help you sort through it.
5. If you think the letter is a scam report it and shred it.
What can consumers do to tackle scams?
Here are three things that residents can do if they suspect they are the target of a scam.
• Get advice from the Citizens Advice Consumer Service online at www.citizensadvice.org.uk or by calling 03454 04 05 06. More information about Scams Awareness Month can be found at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/sam16/
• Report scams and suspected scams to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040. Reporting can help prevent it happening to others. If debit cards, online banking or cheques are involved in the scam, the consumer’s first step should be to contact their bank or card company.
• Tell family, friends, neighbours so that they can avoid scams.
Next week’s focus will be on doorstep scams. Look out for scams publicity, displays and talks in the borough throughout July.