1 Postal scam or junk mail?
Postal scams are letters sent with the sole intention of obtaining money through deception or fraud.
There are many different types of scam mail, such as fake lotteries and prize draws, get-rich-quick schemes, bogus health cures, investment scams and pyramid selling.
It’s important to note there is a difference between scam mail and legitimate mail sent by companies to advertise lawful services or the sale of genuine goods.
This is much less sinister but no less annoying. Read our guide if you want to put an end to unwanted marketing material or junk mail.
2 Is it too good to be true?
Postal scams typically offer something that sounds attractive but in reality doesn’t exist.
There’s always a catch – you’ll often have to pay up front to receive what’s on offer, and this type of scam is called advance-fee fraud.
Two of the most common scams of this type are non-existent competitions and fake foreign lotteries.
So, before responding you should always consider whether what’s on offer seems too good to be true. If it does, then it’s likely to be a scam.
3 Lottery scams
You may receive a letter saying you’ve won a large amount of money on an overseas or online lottery.
The first thing to do is to consider whether you’ve actually entered an online or overseas lottery. Most people who receive these letters haven’t entered a lottery draw.
If you do respond and provide your personal information, the fraudsters will ask you to pay various fees so that they can release your non-existent winnings.
Each time you make a payment, the fraudsters will come up with a reason why your winnings can’t be paid out unless you make another payment.
4 Competition scams
Again, if you’re told you’ve unexpectedly won a prize, the first thing to consider is whether you’ve ever entered a prize draw.
The likelihood is that you haven’t, so your 'win' is likely to be a scam.
Often a condition of these prizes is that you need to send money to claim your prize. But you may never receive the prize or it may not be what you expected.
Any legitimate organisation will pay these upfront costs; anyone asking for a fee in advance shouldn’t be trusted.
Should you fall for one of these scams, there is a chance that you’ll be targeted again, as personal details are added to so-called ‘suckers lists’, which are then sold on to other fraudsters.
5 How to spot a postal scam
If you can tick off one or more of the following, it’s probably a scam and you should be suspicious:
- Bad spelling or poor grammar in a letter claiming to represent a company, royalty or a prize agency should be a clear warning the letter is not from a legitimate organisation.
- An unsolicited commercial or personal request. Do you even know of this company or person? If the name seems unfamiliar and you don’t recall ever signing up to the company or sharing details with them, you should be suspicious.
- Asking for money. Always start from the position that a request for money is to be treated with suspicion until proven otherwise.
- You’re asked to pay up front to receive what’s on offer – processing or handling fees are a con.
There are also certain letter styles that are continually used in competition or lottery scam mail:
- coats of arms
- serial numbers
- reproduced signatures
- rubber stamps
A letter containing these and promising you’ve won a prize draw or lottery you’ve never entered should ring alarm bells and you should never reply.
You should know
Royal Mail is bound by a Universal Service Obligation and is required by law to deliver all mail entrusted to it.
So don’t trust something just because it’s been delivered.
6 Report a postal scam
If you believe that you, or a family member, are receiving mail from fraudsters you should report it.
People who want to report a potential postal scam can write to Royal Mail at Freepost Scam Mail, phone 03456 113413 or email email@example.com.
Or you can report any scam on the police’s Action Fraud website.