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Treat unexpected letters with scepticism: fraudsters often use official logos of companies or organisations to gain your trust. Remember that letters may not be from who they claim.

Common tricks include: 

  • Letters claiming that you have won a lottery
  • Letters claiming that you have won a prize draw
  • Letters claiming that you have inherited money from a distant relative

These letters ask you to contact the sender in order to begin the process to receive your money. The contact number may turn out to be a premium rate number. On contacting the sender, you will be asked to pay an advance fee (often an “administration fee”, “legal fees” or “tax”) in order that your money can be released. The fee is paid to the fraudster but the victim never receives their money.

Those who respond this type of mail often end up having their details put on what criminals cynically call "suckers lists" (see 'postal scams', below).

What to do

  • If you haven’t entered a lottery, you can’t win, so it is not true if you’re told you have won a lottery you didn’t know you had entered.
  • Never send money to anyone you don’t know.  Don’t pay advance fees, however small to claim prizes, lottery winnings or an inheritance.
  • Don’t call unfamiliar numbers, as these may charge high rates.  These often start with 09 or 447.

Postal scams

Criminals target some of the more fragile members of our society by using mailing lists. Everyone is at risk, but those living alone, not having the internet or any way of being educated about scams or how to report them are the preferred targets. Large numbers of potential victims are contacted by post, and those who respond end up having their details put on what criminals call "suckers lists". 

This can result in victims receiving several scam letters every day, many from senders outside of the UK. Many of these residents do not realise they are victims of crime, but believe that they have been dealing with legitimate businesses. 

Scammers will pose as lottery officials, bankers, solicitors, presidents of companies, clairvoyants, charities and even FBI agents. 

Scammers often use colourful envelopes and language like: “Act Now”, “Guaranteed Winner”, “Prize Confirmed”, some sending catalogues and repeatedly promising the victim a large cash prize if they place an order. Some people have spent many thousands of pounds chasing non-existent prizes. 

Other scammers use the voice of authority to swear victims to secrecy, others pose as clairvoyants, making claims like: "those pretending to help you, wish you harm". The idea is to frighten the victims until they become unable to listen to anyone else. 

For more information about postal scams and their impact, visit Think Jessica