As Scams Awareness Month enters its third week (Monday 20), Croydon Council’s trading standards team rips open the envelope on scams that arrive in the post, often promising great fortune to the (un)lucky recipient.
The slogan for this year’s campaign is “Don’t be rushed, don’t be hushed”, and its aim is to warn consumers about being rushed by scammers, and refusing to be hushed into silence by a sense of shame, foolhardiness or weary acceptance.
It is a worrying fact that the tried and tested method of sending somebody an official-looking letter containing news of a lottery win, or a bequest following the death of a previously unknown relative, continues to be a lucrative source of income for conmen the world over.
Bearing an impressive letterheading, and written in authoritative language (that is often mis-spelt and poorly phrased), scam letters pray on people’s susceptibility while simultaneously bleeding them dry of what, in some cases, are their life savings.
Recent incidences of mail scams in Croydon have seen letters promising a large pay-out following the death of somebody with the same surname as the letter’s recipient; and a scam that, over several months, saw one elderly resident on the verge of handing over the deeds to his house, having already lost all his savings, leaving him unable to afford to buy food for himself.
A Coulsdon resident received a letter from Hong Kong from an individual claiming to be the chief financial officer of Manulife Asset Management Limited, and that he was holding funds totalling $9.75m, left by a client who shared the local man’s surname.
He said that the funds were being held with brokers of an offshore bank in Hong Kong. He would be able to provide further information on how he will proceed legally to obtain these funds, once he was assured of the recipient’s genuine intentions and willingness to proceed. He told the recipient to contact him, on the Hong Kong telephone number or email address.
The resident smelled a rat and reported the incident to the trading standards team.
The second case came to light when an alert bank cashier notified the team of an elderly customer whose account was becoming more and more overdrawn as his appearance became increasingly dishevelled. He was clearly hungry, and every time he visited the bank, staff would offer him tea and biscuits, which he quickly devoured.
Officers learned that the scam had started with a few letters telling him that he had won a foreign lottery. He was told to send a £45 fee to the lottery administrators based in Australia and the winnings would be deposited into an account of his choosing. Demands for the administration fees increased and the payments from Mr J were soon flowing, eventually eating his life savings.
By the time trading standards officers were alerted to his plight, he was overdrawn and paying his monthly pension directly to foreign criminals. He had no lighting and no running water, and was living on bread and food that he didn’t need to cook.
Mr J initially denied there was a problem but officers were slowly able to convince him that he was being conned. The team put in a call blocker to prevent the scammers contacting him by telephone and he agreed to his mail being redirected.
Councillor Mark Watson, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“While Mr J’s case is an extreme example, it’s a good indicator of a kind of scam that’s all too common.
“Every year, trading standards officers and police identify hundreds of victims of this so called ‘mass marketing fraud’ many of whom have lost everything to scammers.
“It’s hoped that, through the channel of Scams Awareness Month, more people will learn of the ways and means by which these merciless crooks take advantage of people without a thought for the misery and hardship their actions cause.
“Fortunately, Mr J’s situation came to light before he lost absolutely everything, but the scammers’ actions left him with severely depleted resources that will have a permanent effect on his life.”
More information about scams can be found by visiting the Citizens Advice Consumer Service at www.citizensadvice.org.uk and typing “mail scams” into the search field.
In the Metropolitan Police area, all fraud should be reported directly to Action Fraud online at www.actionfraud.org.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040. The exceptions are if a crime is in progress or about to be committed, the suspect is known or can be easily identified, or the crime involves a vulnerable victim.
If any of these is the case, you should contact police directly by dialling either 999 in an emergency, or 101 in a non-emergency.
If you have any information on any crime and you would prefer not to speak to police, call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111or visit