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. Usually you’ll be given a number to call, and 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 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 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 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.
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.
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 to 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 poor grammar, this is a good indication that it’s a scam.
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 Law Society of Northern Ireland as to the authenticity of such letters. They regularly receive reports of such scams and post them on their website.
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, as this can cause you to get more letters
- 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 NI Advice on 0808 808 7575.
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.
What should I do next?
Every year our Advice Service deals with thousands of calls from older people in need. Call us today to make sure that you are receiving all the help and support available to you.