Skip to content

Postal scams

Sometimes it's difficult to spot the difference between scam mail and offers from legitimate companies.

If you receive something you think may be a scam, don’t respond. Talk about it to someone you trust such as a friend or family member, or call Age NI Advice on 0808 808 7575.

Watch out for these common direct mail scams:

Lotteries/prize draws

You may receive a letter congratulating you on winning a cash prize. Usually you’ll be given a number to call, but if you do, you’ll be asked to pay a fee before the prize is ‘released’. But you won’t receive any prize, and you may be asked to pay further increasing fees or to call a premium rate number.

Don’t respond to these letters. A genuine lottery won’t ever ask you to pay a fee to collect your winnings.

Psychics and clairvoyants

Psychics and clairvoyants may claim to have seen something in your future and ask for money to disclose what it is.

Don’t respond – although the letter may look as if you’ve been specially chosen, this type of letter is sent out in millions and is a scam.

Pyramid schemes

Pyramid schemes can take the form of chain letters or selling schemes. You may be encouraged to send money to the person who has contacted you, either through the promise of great rewards, or by threats about what might happen if the chain is broken.

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. Disregard any threats, they’re meaningless and intended to scare you into responding.

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 money 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.

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 mustn’t charge you a registration fee.

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.

If you respond you’ll be asked to pay various fees or you may be asked for your bank details. In fact there is no money to transfer and the fraudsters will use your details to try and steal the money in your account.

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 bad grammar, this is a good indication that it’s a scam.

What to do if you’re the victim of a direct mail scam

  • Contact Action Fraud immediately if you think you’ve been scammed, so they can try to track down the fraudster.
  • If you’re concerned about whether a scheme is legal, contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Service for advice.

Protect yourself

  • 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
  • Download The little book of big scams  from the Metropolitan Police website

Further information


Our Information guides are short and easy to digest, giving a comprehensive overview of the relevant topic. Information sheets and factsheets are longer with more detail, and are aimed at professionals.

You can download other guides in our series from publications

For more information: Call Age NI Advice: 0808 808 7575

This page was last updated:

Was this helpful?