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Trading Standards: it’s time to bin the scam mail


Lou Baxter is manager of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, and she’s here to talk about postal scams. Has your letterbox been filled with scam mail? Lou wants to make sure you don’t suffer in silence.

Fighting scams and trying to help the people that are affected by scams has kind of become a personal battle of mine. I feel extremely passionately about the issue and want to get it to the top of as many people’s agendas as possible.

Historically, professionals were not aware of the scale of the scams problem. The Office of Fair Trading carried out a study in 2006 which detailed the estimated detriment at £3.5bn and at the National Scams Team we think it’s a much bigger problem, closer to £10bn.

We are currently working with national partners to identify the ‘silent victims’ of scams. Once we identify somebody as a potential victim we are passing this information to the local trading standards to get them to help and support that person. We currently have 116 local authorities signed up and we have measured £4.1m as the loss to 1,265 confirmed victims. This is a huge amount of money and works out to be more than £3,000 per person.

Prize draw scam mail

We recently came across an individual who was a victim of postal and telephone scams. He had posted back his phone number on one of the many prize draws, which got into the hands of the criminals operating scam companies. The victim was recently widowed and when the trading standards went to visit him the phone rang about 10 times in the course of one visit. When the officer answered the phone, the scammer hung up.

When the trading standards started to support him, they estimated he had lost around £150,000 to scams. They managed to prevent him from sending his details on anymore postal scams and estimate they saved him around £40,000. This is the sort of case that illustrates how we can help people, and we need to get to those who need our help the most.

As you’re probably aware, there are thousands of different types of scams, and it can get confusing and difficult to know how best to protect yourself and your friends and relatives.

This problem is massively under-reported. Many people feel shame or embarrassment at being caught out. We don’t want you to suffer in silence. We want you to help us encourage your neighbours, relatives and friends to report scams or attempted scams.

Get on the scam wagon and help us highlight this problem! How can we raise the profile of postal scams? And have you been affected by one?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Lou Baxter, National Trading Standards Scams Team manager. All opinions expressed are Lou’s own, not necessarily those of Which?.


There is a lot of emphasis on the internet and in the media about scams that are categorised as e-crime but very little about postal scams, yet they appear to be an enormous problem and appeal more to vulnerable and elderly people who might not be at risk from on-line fraudsters. It would be useful to have some examples of the sort of postal scams that have been identified and how they operate. Is the long-standing [under various guises] prize draw scam the most prolific? To read that somebody has been scammed out of £150,000 [and saved from losing another £40,000] would be incredible if it didn’t come from a reliable source, but is this the general scale of the scams or is that case an extremely exceptional one? More info please.


My parents had a letter about a relative who had died in a hiking accident. It may well have worked if they’d hadn’t sent the same letter ( but with different surnames) to a neighbour the same day. The chances of 2 unrelated people both having relatives die in hiking accidents on the same day, what are the chances …..

Actually it wouldn’t have worked, I’ve trained my parents too well. (fingers crossed)

I tried to report it to trading standards but they didn’t even want the code printed as part of the smartstamp.

So I have to question how into catching the culprits Trading standards are.


John, yes postal scams are an enormous problem as are the other types you mentioned. Tthe sort of postal scams we regularly see are, misleading prize draws, fake lotteries promising huge wins for a small fee, inheritancance scams, clairvoyant scams and many others.

The example given above is unfortunately not a one off. We hear loads of stories where consumers have lost thousands of pounds. We had information from a Trading Standards last month where they estimated that a consumer had lost of £1 Million.



Thanks for that quick response Louise. It’s been a mistake in the past to think that it is only a fool and his money that are easily parted. Scams can strike at the most sagacious because their stock-in-trade is trust.

I do feel that this issue has been shaded from the limelight unjustifiably while the focus has been on internet scams; both internet and postal scams are equally heinous and I would hazard a guess that the victims of the latter might be the more deserving of protection and urgent action by Trading Standards. The big issue in all these things, and the “copycat website” Conversation is another example, is the exploitation of trust. I don’t get the impression that the perpetrators of these crimes are getting their just desserts through the enforcement regimes; it is a particularly wicked offence in my opinion and should be punished appropriately such that society can be rid of this menace.


A couple of months ago I got a correctly personnaly addressed letter through the post, from someone in China, about a smallish fortune left by a relative with the same surname, somewhere in China, which would disappear if I did not collaborate with the correspondent and help them access the money. The letter had been part of a batch posted in the UK – no postmark??

I doubt I’d have fallen for it anyway, but the name and scenario did not fit any relative known to me – the one rellie known in the past to have been in China had a completely different name and died back in the UK.

However I thought it my civic duty to report it as I could see that they could hit the jackpot with others, I phoned the non-emergency police – they were not only not at all interested – but started treating me as if I might be a vulnerable person needing reassurance that I was not in any danger from personal visits by the scammers. I gave up. But would be glad to know if there is anyone to whom I can pass this kind of thing on, in the interests of preventing others being caught out.


I know the feeling about reporting these things. I went through the same thing.

The Royal Fail have a webpage on what to do with scam mail they deliver and include an address to forward the post to ( with covering letter). I’ll post that link in a reply to this one, as they tend to get held up in the ether somewhere.



apologioes for the delay in responding i have been travelling. You can pass this information to your local Trading Standards, they usually note them for intel. You can also report it to Action Fraud who again will use it to gather information on the scale of the problem and also pass any relevant information to the police. Sadly there are so mnay of these scams and not enough of us to tackle them all.


As soon as the letters drop through the door I stick on a printed label which states in capital letters UNREQUESTED MAIL RETURN TO THE SENDER’ and put them back in the post. Sometimes I open them up and using their return envelope put a FREE gift from another company and return it to them. You wouldn’t belive the number of companies who have had a free pen for signing up to a Funeral plan!! or a set of food vouchers and £50 worth of wine.


My elderly parents are ‘hooked’ on the Star Shopping scam. They are in their late 80s – and one suffers from dementia. Spending has shot up recently to some £1,000 a month and they have gone into overdraft to fund the chance to ‘win’. Despite all our efforts including showing them the Think Jessica site + a visit from a Trading Standards Officer – they continue to feed the scam, in the expectation and hope that they are just about to win…
My siblings and I are really lost on what to realistically do – apart from exercising Power of Attorney, which would create a lasting and major schism with our parents.
Any advice?


Sorry to hear your story, but it does seem the authorities really aren’t working as hard as they could.

If your parents are paying out money, then surely the bank knows where its going, and therefore the authorities should too. How hard is it really ?

Can’t you explain what’s going on to the bank and get them to block these payments? Your parents can then carry on doing what they doing, writing cheques if that’s what they’re doing , without actually parting from their money? And hopefully never finding out what you’ve done.

Good luck


I am so sorry to hear about your parents. Things i would suggest.
1. Advise the bank of this issue and see if they can block any transactions
2. Gather press cuttings to show them that other people are also victims of these scams and the trouble it has caused them. This sometimes works.
3. What did the Trading Standards officer do/say?
4. If they won’t agree to having their mail redirected or they cant because there is nowhere for it to go, try and get them agree to it being delivered to your local office (forms online) so you could sift it with them
5. Speak to your local police as well as Trading Standards as they may be able to do an education visit.
6. Have you also spoken to your Adult Social Care can they help?

Unfotunately power of attorney might be the last resort, but you can then get their mail redirected.

I am sorry there is no easy answer to this and no one answer fits all. We are hoping to do some more TV on this which may help in getting the messages accross.


I’ve just google’d “star shopping scam” and found an article on the guardian website dated 2006.

One paragraph starts

“Complaints started to come into The Office of Fair Trading, which, in 2004,”

That was 10 years ago!! Are Trading Standards fit for purpose? Maybe Trading Standards could explain why it’s taking so long, as a lay person that seems far to long.

And please don’t use the excuse our powers aren’t strong enough. If I was running trading standards and thought our powers aren’t strong enough, then enough people would have been so fed up of me we’d have had our powers improved years ago.


Thanks – Agree with you on authorities – I tried to speak to the Bank – and they would not talk to me due to security/confidentiality (I also wanted to ensure my Parents did not extend their overdraft – or even take out further loans)