Scam mail

Scam mail is a common crime in the UK. Sadly, there's nothing you can do to stop postal scams – you can report scam mailings but the authorities (Trading Standards and the Police) aren't interested in stopping such crimes. You can get help and advice though…

The basics

Scam mail are mailings that aim to rip off the recipient. Common scams include fake lotteries and prize draws, work from home schemes, fake investment plans and letters from psychics, but there are many, many more. Invariably, the letters try to persuade the recipient to part with their money. The scammers might ask for your bank details, ask you to ring a premium rate number or buy something in order to claim a prize.

Another thing scam mailings have in common is that they're illegal under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. As such, scam mail and advertising mail are quite different. Scam mail is sent by criminals rather than 'just' marketeers.

Because scam mail isn't 'junk mail as we know it' none of the anti-junk mail measures I've discussed in this guide so far will stop scam mail. The criminals behind postal scams are not going to check if you're registered with the Mailing Preference Service, nor will they stop if you return scam mailings to the sender or send them a data protection notice. You should make no attempt to contact the scammers – instead you need to report to the authorities.

Sadly, there's little else you can do. Scam mail can't be stopped – it can only be reported. If you're trying to help a vulnerable person who is being targeted by scammers you may be able to prevent scams reaching the person – for instance by redirecting all mail addressed to the person – but you won't be able to stop the mailings at source.

Reporting scams

Scam mailings may be reported to Citizens Advice and Action Fraud:

  • Citizens Advice passes the details about scam mailings to Trading Standards. Officially, the information is then used to help stop other people from becoming victims of the same scam. In practice, your report will just be another statistic – it's extremely unlikely that Trading Standards will do anything to stop the scam. Citizens Advice may also be able to give advice on how to best deal with the scam. For instance, if you're trying to help a vulnerable scam victim you could talk with them about redirecting the person's mail and/or confiscating the victim's cheque book. Note, though, that taking such action is often not possible; if the victim is quite happy to pay money to criminals and has 'mental capacity' there's little you can do.
  • Action Fraud describes itself as the national reporting centre for fraud and internet crime. As with Trading Standards, it's extremely unlikely that they will do anything to stop scams.
Last updated: 
31st August 2015
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