What is a postal scam?
A postal scam is a letter sent with the sole intention of gaining money through deception. Scammers grab your attention by saying that you’ve won a fantastic prize or have been chosen to take part in a great money-making scheme. Perhaps there is a ‘secret’ deal that can make you rich, or a clairvoyant who can stop bad luck and direct good luck towards you. Or they might even resort to threats.
The bottom line is that, once they’ve captured your attention, they will ask you to send money or personal details. With these details they can do all sorts of things. Read about some of the most common postal scams in our article.
How big is the problem?
The National Trading Standards Scams team estimate postal scams could be netting criminals worldwide up to £10bn a year. It’s estimated that 70% of all scam losses come from postal scams.
As the techniques that scammers use get more sophisticated, it can be difficult to spot the difference between scam mail, junk mail and offers from legitimate companies.
Once a victim responds to a scam letter, their name is put on a list – known to criminals as a ‘suckers list’ – which is then sold to criminals all over the world. This can result in some victims getting more than 100 letters every day.
Things to watch out for
Take the following steps to protect yourself from common postal scams.
- Never respond to scam letters or junk mail – you are likely to get more, so just tear them up or shred them (ensuring the your name and address are no longer legible) and throw them in the bin/recycling.
- Don’t believe any stranger who writes to you out of the blue, telling you that you’ve won something or can earn high rewards for a low investment.
- Don’t trust any stranger who asks you for money – assume it is suspicious unless proved otherwise.
- Don’t believe any threats – the scammers probably live thousands of miles away and have sent the same threat to hundreds of people, so it’s nothing personal. These letters are designed to scare people into responding.
- If letters claim to come from a genuine source – such as a solicitor or a government agency – contact the organisation in question (using the correct details from their website, NOT those in the correspondence).
- If you’ve received or are receiving something that looks like scam mail and you’re worried about it, talk about it to someone you trust, such as a friend or family member.
- You can take steps to reduce junk mail, but this won’t necessarily stop scams getting through.
- Register with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) – this can stop junk mail, but the postal service has a legal obligation anything that is addressed directly to you.
- Put a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your letterbox.
Postal scams use some common tricks, so be on your guard if you spot any of the following:
They dazzle you with words such as: ‘Congratulations’, ‘Won the Lottery’, ‘Guaranteed winner’, ‘Highly confidential’, ‘Unclaimed prize’ or ‘Time-sensitive document’.
They address letters to you by name – to make it look more convincing.
Letters come from company presidents, lottery officials, solicitors or other people with impressive sounding job titles.
They use false testimonials and smiling pictures of ‘previous winners’.
They send small, low-cost prizes to hook you in and try to convince you to send larger amounts of money.
What to do if you’re caught out by a postal scam
- If you’re caught out by a postal scam, report the incident to Action Fraud. Remember that anyone can become a victim of a scam and reporting it could stop others falling victim to the same scam.
UK’s National Fraud reporting centre, monitoring and investigating cases of fraud. If you’ve been scammed or conned, let them know.
Report fraud by speaking directly to specialist fraud advisers. They will also be able to give you help and advice about fraud.
- Report postal scams to Royal Mail. It runs a joint initiative with Trading Standards to investigate reports of scam mail and take the appropriate action.
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