Wouldn’t we all like to receive news of a windfall coming our way, or perhaps a brand-new car or a fortnight in the sun? Here, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Against Scams Partnership (CAPASP) explain why you shouldn’t get carried away by such enticing news landing on your doormat. And they tell you what to do to protect yourself and your loved ones from fake letters and postal scams trying to get hold of your hard-earned cash.
Whilst the post is a more costly way for fraudsters to contact potential victims than contact by telephone, internet or on the doorstep, postal scams are still very common – particularly amongst older people. In fact, the costs represent a mere fraction of the profits the criminals make from their victims. Criminals invest in targeting older people with postal scams because they are less likely to use the internet. They are less likely to have an awareness about scams but more likely to have cognitive impairments that affect their ability to spot scams. Thus they are more likely to be trusting of postal communications.
Bogus Prize Draws and Lotteries
Fake prize draws and lotteries are one of the most common types of postal scam. These are letters that declare that the recipient has won a big prize in a recent draw. But they request payment of an administration fee or taxes before they can receive the winnings.
Tip: You cannot win a prize draw or lottery you haven’t entered. So if you haven’t been over to Australia and bought an Australian lottery ticket, then you can’t have won the Aussie lotto jackpot.
Tip: A genuine prize draw or lottery would not ask for any payment to receive the winnings.
Catalogue scams operate in a similar way to prize draw scams in that they claim a fantastic prize awaits. Often they will mock up a cheque for thousands of pounds in the name of their recipient, suggesting that the cheque is awaiting and all they have to do is place an order in the catalogue to receive it! In these scams the catalogue items are usually overpriced, and of course the promised prize never arrives. We know of basic household shower gels being sold for £9.99 for 250ml, with £4.99 postage for two – meaning victims pay £24.97 for two bottles of shower gel because they are misled into thinking a fortune awaits them.
Catalogues operating these scams often sell toiletries and cosmetics, health supplements, foreign foodstuffs and gift items..
Tip: If you receive a catalogue with a mock-up cheque in your name or a promised prize awaiting, take a close look at all the small print. You will likely find that the cheque is not in fact guaranteed for you. It’s usually the prize in a draw that you can enter if you spend with the company.
Tip: If you actually need any of the items in the catalogue and are struggling to get to the shops yourself, then you could ask a friend, family member or neighbour if they could help you. That way you’ll pay a fair price and can also chat to them about the scam mail you are receiving.
Our experience suggests that bogus clairvoyant letters are common amongst people who have responded to other scams in the past. These letters often feature a photograph of the supposed clairvoyant at the top of the letter. They claim that the recipient has something very exciting to look forward to – perhaps a windfall or some other good fortune – which will be revealed if the they pay a fee to the clairvoyant. Sometimes the letters are more sinister and suggest something terrible is afoot and that the resident must pay for spiritual protection or a special talisman.
These letters often use a font that appears to be handwritten. And a common tactic is to use the recipient’s first name throughout. This gives the impression that the clairvoyant knows them and is their friend.
Tip: There is no proof of anyone having special powers to see into the future. Clairvoyant letters are only after money and should be ignored.
Inheritance scams are letters claiming to come from a bank overseas – often, but not always, in China. The sender says that a person sharing the same surname as you has died, leaving a huge estate. Since no other heirs have been identified, you are in line to receive the money. Sometimes the sender claims to be contacting you in secret in order to help you to receive the incredible riches. The catch is that you must send money to cover taxes or fees before you can receive a penny. But if you do you send money you will never see it or the supposed inheritance again.
Tip: Remember, as with all the postal scams featured above, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Stopping Scam Mail
Scam mail can be incredibly tempting to respond to when it promises all sorts of wonderful things. But any response to a scammer will lead to more and more letters asking you to send money for something. And the promised fortune will never arrive.
Just putting scam post in the bin or recycling won’t stop those letters from coming. So it’s important to take positive action.
- Return to sender. Circle any return address and put the letter back in the post. This way the sender will see you’re not responding and, after time, will take you off their mailing list (or as they call it, very distastefully, their ‘suckers’ list).
- FREEPOST SCAM MAIL. You can combine scam mail in a larger envelope and send it to FREEPOST SCAM MAIL. This goes to Royal Mail’s anti-fraud team who will look at cancelling contracts with the senders, helping to protect you and others from fake letters in the future.
- Scam Marshal Scheme. Recipients of scam mail who are able to spot these scams are invited to become a scam marshal. Scam marshals report the scam mail they receive to the National Trading Standards Scams Team to help their investigations. They receive a regular newsletter and the opportunity to become pen pals with other scam marshals. For more information visit www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/against-scams
- Mail redirection. For victims who are unable to recognise fraudulent mail, we recommend they consider mail redirection, if there is a family member who is able to receive and sort post on behalf of the victim.