Officers crack down on scam mail

St Helens Council Trading Standards and Merseyside Police have been working to protect elderly residents conned by floods of scam mail.

The watchdogs are working through a list, seized from an unscrupulous
scammer, and are returning cash, cheques and postal orders – retrieved from scam mail businesses at their premises and postal hubs – to the victims.

Officers have visited around 25 St Helens residents, who over the last five
years or so, have lost at least £82,000 between them. Most of the victims
are over 70 and live alone, with some receiving around 100 scam letters a
week.

In most cases, the scams started when residents ordered cheap goods from a mailshot – such as diabetic or gourmet foods, herbal remedies and
ornaments. Their details were then passed to a range of scam business,
which bombarded victims with letters claiming they had won thousands of
pounds in a prize draw or foreign lottery – and asking for money to claim
the winnings. Other letters threatened dire consequences if they didn’t buy
lucky crystals or take the advice of ‘clairvoyants.’

In the worst cases, victims sent up to £60 a week – making it difficult for
them to pay household bills and, in one case, even buy food. Some people
had houses full of mail and even developed systems of sorting it, before
responding. One lady spent £15,000 in five years while one man, described as ‘very intelligent’, is believed to have spent more than £30,000 over a similar period.

Councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron, St Helens Council’s Cabinet Member for Green Smart & Sustainable Borough, said: “Nationally there are around 200,000 victims of scam mail, with an average age of 74. The total amount scammed from them is estimated at £13 million – which works out at £1,184 per person. These unscrupulous conmen are targeting the elderly, who cannot afford to lose this sort of money.”

Officers have been visiting residents to help them to stop receiving the
mail – and encouraging them to stop responding. Details of the scammers are then shared with the Police and other enforcement agencies, with a view to taking enforcement action whenever possible.

Less than five per cent of mail scams are reported, generally because the
victim has been dazzled by the scammer, and then feels ashamed and
embarrassed when they realise what has happened. Trading Standards are urging those receiving scam mail to report it – and asking family and
friends help protect older residents.

If you think you, or someone you know has been scammed, report it to
Trading Standards on 01744 676299 or tradingstandards@sthelens.gov.uk.