A scam is a type of fraud. Mass marketing scams are the most common. According to the Office of Fair Trading a mass marketing scam is a 'misleading or deceptive business practice where the person receives an unsolicited or uninvited contact (eg by letter, email, phone or advertisement) and false promises are made to con the victim out of money'.
What is the impact of scams
Every year, three million people fall victim to scams (losing an average of £850 each and sometimes a great deal more). As well as losing money, being taken in by a scam can be very distressing for the victim and their friends and family.
For chronic victims it can take over their lives with some individuals receiving up to 200 letters in just one week, all of which they feel the need to respond to.
Scam victims are often not aware or are afraid to admit they have been a victim of a scam. Fewer than five per cent of people report scams to the authorities.
What to look out for
- common scams include claims that you have won money and it is being held in a holding company; somebody has left you an inheritance that you need to claim; or clairvoyants claiming they can stop bad luck and direct good luck your way. All will require a small payment in advance (followed by more and more payments with no 'prize' ever materialising)
- they will appear official (that is their intention). For example, claiming to be solicitors or from the government and will use legal and formal jargon. Letters will be addressed to you personally to make you feel special
- once you have replied to one scam letter you will receive more. If you are receiving 3 letters a day offering superb prizes it is likely your details have been added to a 'suckers list' being shared between scammers
You can view videos about scams and victim stories on the Think Jessica website.
How to spot a victim of a scam
People find it hard to believe they are being conned. Scammers are full of promises that they never fulfil. Victims will become secretive (through embarrassment or scammers telling them not to talk to anyone). Often victims are lonely and have fallen out with friends and family having been challenged about responding to scams.
Common tell tale signs amongst victims are large numbers of letters being received daily. They will also be sending lots of cheques or postal orders, and telephone bills may be unusually high due to the dialling of premium rate numbers.
What to do if you have concerns about somebody
If you have concerns that somebody you know is responding to scams, talk to them about it. If they would like the scams to be investigated, they can send the letters free of charge to Royal Mail.
If they just want the letters to stop, they need to 'return them to sender' saying 'not known at this address' and the scam letters should stop quite quickly.
If gentle persuasion does not prove successful in stopping them from responding to the letters, we are able to contact them for you to give them advice. Please contact us and we will discuss the individual's circumstances. Action Fraud can also refer people to Victim Support.
Often people who have become trapped in a cycle of responding to scams have additional support needs and if you think this is the case, you can also contact the County Council’s Adult Safeguarding Team to see what additional support could be put in place. Some practical day to day assistance might also be available from local community navigators.