More than 60 scam mail recipients have been visited by West Sussex Trading Standards Officers since mid-December - with two victims admitting to losses of more than £10,000.
The team from West Sussex County Council had already identified more than 100 victims of scam mail following visits undertaken last summer – and they fear this could just be the tip of the iceberg.
One of these victims – an 83-year-old man who lives in a nursing home near Chichester – had been tricked into sending more than £3,000 to bogus clairvoyants to purchase ‘talisman’ good luck charms for between £20 and £40 each and to obtain reports about the future.
He has now stopped sending money and is helping Trading Standards by collecting the mail he receives and handing it over to officers from the service.
Operation 'Bah Scambug' saw Trading Standards officers across East and West Sussex join forces with the National Trading Standards Scams Team last December to provide advice and support to victims with a view to ensuring that they don’t continue to send money chasing non-existent prize draw wins, bogus lotteries or other scams in the future.
Lionel Barnard, West Sussex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, with responsibility for Trading Standards, said: “Fraudsters tend to prey on older and vulnerable residents who, in a lot of cases, are unaware that they are victims of scams and it is a continuous problem.
“The case of this poor gentlemen who has been tricked into spending £3,000 on bogus clairvoyants is a case in point
“The Bah Scambug initiative before Christmas gave us a great opportunity to support those who have fallen foul of fraud and to offer advice to ensure they are protected in the future. Our Trading Standards Service will continue to work to stamp out bogus mail scams and support people who do fall victim to them.”
Many of the victims identified by Trading Standards had been sending money for years to fraudsters, most of whom were based overseas. Whilst in some cases officers were also able to return money to victims that had been intercepted en-route to the fraudsters, some victims had lost tens of thousands of pounds and others had literally run out of money to send.
A typical scam mail victim will be bombarded with letters promising cash prizes or lottery wins, catalogues offering products for sale and appearing to offer a substantial prize if you place an order, and letters from clairvoyants or psychics threatening bad luck or promising good fortune.
Anyone who is concerned about a possible scam or is worried that a friend or relative may be responding to scam mail is asked to contact the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline for advice on 03454 04 05 06.
You can also report incidents direct to West Sussex Trading Standards online at www.westsussex.gov.uk/tsreport