One of the ways that scammers commonly contact people is through the post. 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.
What are some common postal scams?
Here are common types of postal scams you should be aware of and what to do if you spot them:
Lotteries and prize draws
You may receive a letter congratulating you on winning a cash prize. But you won’t receive any prize, and you may be asked to call a premium rate number or to pay fees to 'release' your prize.
Don’t respond to these letters, even if they look genuine. A genuine lottery won’t ever ask you to pay a fee to collect your winnings.
Psychics and clairvoyants
Psychics and clairvoyants may send a letter claiming to have seen something in your future and asking for money to disclose what it is. Sometimes the so-called clairvoyants co-ordinate with lottery and prize scams to give the impression that they are ‘predicting’ a piece of ‘good luck’.
Don’t respond – although the letter may look as if you’ve been specially chosen, this type of letter is sent out to millions and is a scam.
Pyramid schemes can take the form of chain letters or investment schemes that offer profits for little or no risk. You may be encouraged to ask others to join, or told to send money to the person who has contacted you to receive your return on investment.
Don’t join the scheme – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Pyramid schemes often involve overpriced products of no real value. You may receive a threat intended to scare you into responding, ignore these too.
Hard luck stories
With these types of stories, the fraudster may claim to have lost all of their money in unfortunate circumstances or that they need to pay for an operation, and will ask you for money.
These stories are fake. Don’t respond, even to say no, as this will encourage the fraudster to keep contacting you.
You may receive a letter addressed to you, which tells you that someone has left you money in their will. These letters can refer to real law firms and even have seemingly genuine email addresses, postal addresses, or websites.
Always check with the Solicitors Regulation Authority as to the authenticity of such letters. They regularly receive reports of similar scams and post them on their website.
Advance fee fraud
You may receive a request to help transfer money out of another country in return for a substantial reward. Often the letter will appear to be from a Government official or lawyer.
Do not reply to the letter and never send your bank or personal details. Often these kinds of scam letters are badly written. If you see spelling mistakes and poor grammar, this is a good indication that it’s a scam.
Bogus job offers
These usually involve an offer of work to do at home if you first send a registration fee. You may even receive an offer of an interview over the telephone.
Legitimate employment agencies will not charge you a registration fee.
How can I protect myself from postal scams?
- Contact the Mailing Preference Service to have your name taken off direct mailing lists in the UK (this won’t cover mail that is unaddressed or from overseas).
- Put a ‘no junk mail’ sign on your door. You can make this sign yourself or buy one online.
- If you receive something you think may be a scam, don’t respond, and throw it away. You can join the Scam Marshal scheme that encourages you to send them your scam mail so they can help catch the scammers.
- You can avoid being added to mailing lists which scammers sometimes get hold of. When you register to vote, tick the box to opt out of the ‘edited register’ (also known as the ‘open register’) as this can be used to send unsolicited marketing mail.
- Always check the credentials of any company or legal professional you're unsure about.
- If you have received or are receiving something that looks like scam mail, talk about it with someone you trust such as a friend or family member, or call Age UK Advice on 0800 169 65 65.
What should I do if I’m a victim of a postal scam?
Although many people feel embarrassed about falling for a scam, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many people fall victim to scams, and fraudsters have a range of techniques to trick people and are trying new scams all the time.
Contact Action Fraud immediately if you think you’ve been scammed, so they can try to track down the fraudster, and ensure that other people don’t go through the same experience.
If you’re concerned about whether a scheme is legal, contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service for advice.