Scammers commonly contact people through the post.
Some victims, particularly older people, receive hundreds of scam letters a week. Common mail scams include lottery and prize draw scams, Nigerian letter scams, clairvoyant scams and catalogue scams.
Older people are especially vulnerable to mail scams because many still receive and pay their bills by post, shop using paper catalogues and correspond by letter. Not only that, the arrival of the day’s post can be a highlight for a lonely older person, giving them something to do.
National Trading Standards reports that the average sum lost by victims of mail scams in 2016 was £1,012.
Here are some common mail scams to look out for…
Lottery or prize draw scams
You receive a letter or email congratulating you on winning a prize or lottery jackpot – even though you didn’t enter it. You are then asked for your bank account details or copies of personal documents such as your passport, so they can send you the money. Sometimes they will ask for an advance fee before they can release the money – they will claim this is for taxes, legal or banking fees, or processing or handling fees.
Once you send your bank details, your bank account is emptied by the scammers.
Two in five of all postal scams are lotteries or prize draws. It is estimated that prize draw scams cost the UK public £60 million per year.
Catalogues arrive in the post selling low-value and unwanted products, vitamins and ‘miracle cures’ at so-called ‘bargain’ prices. Products either never arrive, or are of little or no value. Sometimes you are entered into a fictitious prize draw as an incentive to continue ordering. Responding to one offer can lead to a flood of catalogues. The scammer will often say you have won a prize but you need to purchase goods from the catalogue to receive it.
These scammers lure you by claiming they can make contact with a deceased relative or predict your future – for a fee. Bereaved individuals may be particularly susceptible.
This is an advance-fee scam where you are asked to help transfer money out of a country. As a reward you are offered a percentage of the money once you have paid for transaction fees or taxes. Repeated requests for additional fees are made. Once the scammers have your bank details, the accounts are emptied.
These are offers to invest your money in stocks or shares promising sky-high or guaranteed returns. Exotic-sounding assets such as vineyards, hotels, land or diamonds are commonly cited in investment scams. Once you have sent your money, you discover the stocks are non-existent or very low-value. Investment scams usually claim to be time-limited and urge you to sign up NOW, as this opportunity will disappear soon and you don’t want to miss out – etc, etc. Click here for more information about investment scams.
These offer a free pension review and claim that you can convert part or all of your pension into tax-free lump sums. Click here for more information about pension scams.
DON’T BE A SCAM VICTIM!
REMEMBER: IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS
If you’ve been told you’ve won something in a raffle, prize draw, or competition, think about whether you actually entered. If you didn’t, you can be sure it’s a scam. Bin it!
If you are asked to pay a fee up-front in order to receive your winnings/prize/etc, it’s a scam. Legitimate organisations will never ask you to do this. Bin it!
Does the letter contain bad spelling or grammar? If so, it’s a scam. Bin it!
There are also certain letter styles that are commonly used in competition or lottery scam mail:
- Coats of arms
- Serial numbers
- Reproduced signatures
- Rubber stamps
If you receive a letter with one or more or these on, and claiming you’ve won a prize draw or lottery you never entered, it’s a scam. Bin it!
Have you received the letter or catalogue out of the blue, without ever asking for it or ever making contact with the company? If so, it’s probably a scam. Bin it!
Are they asking you for money? Always start from the position that any request for money is suspicious unless proven otherwise. Don’t send any money!
There are also some practical steps you can take to reduce the risk that you will fall victim to a mail scam:
Sign up to the Mailing Preference Service
If you are being bombarded with large amounts of mail, it’s a good idea to sign up to the Mailing Preference Service (MPS). This will have the effect of stopping UK organisations that are members of the Direct Marketing Association from sending you personally-addressed mail unless you have expressly given those companies permission to do so.
However, as most scammers are unlikely to be members of the DMA, it won’t stop scam mail getting through – but if you know you are registered with the MPS and ought not to be receiving any unsolicited letters or catalogues, you should be immediately suspicious of any that do arrive.
You can register online for the Mailing Preference Service at www.mpsonline.org.uk or by phoning 020 7291 3310 or 0845 703 4599.
WARNING: Beware of people calling you on the phone claiming to be from the Mailing Preference Service asking for payment to complete your registration – this is itself a scam!
Sign up to the Royal Mail opt-out service
You can also opt out of Royal Mail Door to Door. This stops all unaddressed mail – post that says just ‘The Occupier’ or ‘The Householder’, for instance – being delivered to your home via Royal Mail deliveries.
If you wish to opt out, you should send your name and address to Freepost, Royal Mail Customer Services or email your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. An opt-out form will then be sent to your address, which you must complete and return. More details on this here.
Have your mail redirected to someone you trust
If you are constantly receiving large quantities of post and are not sure whether it is genuine or not, it might be worth redirecting all your mail to a relative or trusted friend, who can filter it for you and only pass on the genuine items.
Report scam mail to Royal Mail
If you receive written correspondence you believe to be from fraudsters, you can forward it to Royal Mail with a covering letter to: Freepost Scam Mail, Exeter EX1 9UN. You can also email email@example.com or call 0800 011 3466
You can also report any type of fraud to Action Fraud, either through their online reporting tool or calling 0300 123 2040, as soon as possible. The online form takes about 20 minutes to complete.
You’ve realised you’ve been scammed. What happens now?
Thousands of people do fall victim to mail scams every year, so don’t be ashamed. It’s not your fault! Click here to find out who to report it to, and what to do to try and get your money back.