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Are you a winner or is it a scam?

Rachel Aldighieri, MD at the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) explains how a little healthy scepticism can help you to avoid prize promotion scams.

Prize promotions and offers have been a marketing staple for as long as there has been marketing. There is nothing new and nothing wrong with offering a spectacular prize to urge consumers to your brand, whether it’s to buy, engage with or simply see it. However, as prizes have become a popular way to help businesses with their marketing, so unscrupulous businesses realise an opportunity to scam consumers – whether it’s by offering a prize that doesn’t really exist or making it impossible to win.

There are various laws governing the management of these sorts of competition and prizes, and the penalties for those who mislead or deceive can be harsh. But today it might not be a simple fraud for a quick buck that the criminals are after – they might just as easily be going after your data.

A prize draw rarely requires you to send cash or hand over your bank details, but there’s still a lot quite innocuous seeming data can reveal about you.

How can a fraudster use prize promotions to perform scams?
Because fraudsters may be looking for your data rather than the money in your wallet, frauds may seem innocuous or frivolous at first – you enter a competition and then nothing happens. What’s wrong with that?

The problem comes when fraudsters are able to obtain enough information about you to find out something useful. They could sell the data to other criminals or use the information themselves in an attempt to commit some form of fraud or scam.

If your personal data falls into the wrong hands then it could be at best a nuisance, for example leading to you being the target of nuisance calls. At worst, the data could be used by fraudsters to appear to be you and gain access to your online accounts, use your identity and in some cases even open bank accounts or credit cards in your name.

This is not to say that prize promotions will always mislead – far from it. Reputable companies abide by the law because they know the value of trust and want to build trust with you. But it’s worth a little healthy scepticism when you enter a prize draw or competition because it might not be your money the scammers are after.

Proceed with caution. Check who it is you're giving your data to and what information you’re giving them. Because if a prize seems too good to be true, it may well be just that.

How can you spot a scam?

Let’s imagine you hear about a prize promotion. It doesn’t matter how – it could be over social media, through the post, via a phone call or in a dozen other ways. It seems legitimate. But is it? Here are a couple of things to consider:

Don’t just enter the draw.

Check the following: Do you know who has contacted you? How did they find your details? How did they call you? Could they be calling random numbers, emailing random addresses? If the group offering the prize promotion fails any of these checks then delete the message immediately.

Look at the brand. Most likely a fraudster will attempt to make himself or herself look like a brand you know and trust. Double check this. Is a particular brand really offering this prize or is this a fraud? If the prize draw or competition takes you to a website, does the website address (the bit after http://www) look right to you? Does the caller sound legitimate?

What are they asking? It’s usual to answer a question to enter a competition. But if the questions relate to personal information about you then be careful. Of course if you win they would need to contact you, but if they ask more than cursory information then we suggest you either stop or proceed with extreme caution.

Only if you have checked all these factors, and you are satisfied that the company is legitimate and you are reassured about their motives, then proceed. And good luck!

The DMA is a UK trade association for the one-to-one marketing industry - those companies that speak directly to their customers and those companies that help them achieve this.

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

#slamprizescams #prizescams #scams

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Paying to claim a prize? SCAM!

Hina Parmar, legal counsel at the IPM, explains why paying to claim a prize probably means it's a scam.

“Congratulations! You've won a prize”. The excitement of seeing these five words quickly disappears as soon as you see there is a cost to claim it. Most likely, you'll get a text or a call telling you of your “win” but to claim your prize you'll have to ring an expensive premium rate phone line to claim the prize.

However, did you know that being asked even for a penny to claim a prize is not only a breach of the UK advertising rules (the CAP Code) but also is illegal. The prohibition stems from a European court decision against a company called Purely Creative. Purely Creative ran scratch card promotions in newspapers. If a consumer did reveal a win, they were required to call a premium rate phone line in order to claim their money. The OFT (now the responsibility of Trading Standards), challenged whether the practice of asking consumers to call a premium rate phone line was lawful under a piece of consumer legislation – the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The legislation states that promoters must not create a false impression that consumers have won or will win if taking an action in relation to claiming a prize incurs a cost.
The European court held that any cost to claim a prize is prohibited even if the cost imposed on the consumer is minimal so a cost as small as a postage stamp would be caught.

According to BBC’s Watchdog, more than a million people in the UK lose £80m to claiming prizes - an average of £80 each. At the IPM, we rarely see costs to claim prizes in promotions we review, but always advise that it is best practice to ask consumers to email in, call a freephone number or use a freepost address to claim their prize.
So next time you see that exciting message pop up on your phone that you have won a prize, make sure you check there is not a cost to claim it!

The IPM is the trade organisation that represents brands, agencies and service agencies engaged in promotional marketing across all media channels.

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

#slamprizescams #prizescams #scams

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Prize scams: Protecting the vulnerable

Marilyn Baldwin OBE founder of charity Think Jessica answered our questions about her work fighting fraud and explained how her story began.

Why did you set up Think Jessica?

My mother Jessica was a victim of postal and telephone fraud for five years up until she died in 2007 aged 83. Throughout that period she was brainwashed by a host of characters the criminals had invented, lottery officials, solicitors, bankers, prize holding companies, presidents of companies and clairvoyants. They put her details on what they call a ‘suckers’ list and circulated it to other criminals worldwide. My mum was trapped in a delusional world which became her reality hence she refused to believe family or professionals who tried to help her understand the truth.
She received around 30,000 letters (thirty thousand) and was bombarded with phone call from criminals. I tried to find help but there was none.

Following her death I campaigned for seven years to shock the government and Royal Mail into taking action to protect elderly and vulnerable victims who were being repeatedly targeted. I met with MPs, ministers and the Director General of The Serious Organised Crime agency (now called NCA - National Crime Agency) and gave talks to professionals who work alongside elderly and vulnerable people, police, age-related charities, the attorney general, Office of Fair Trading. I also gave dozens of TV and radio interviews which resulted in thousands of other relatives of victims speaking out about struggles similar to my own experience with my mum. See the About Us page.

Which agencies and bodies do you work with?

To name a few National Trading Standards scams team, police forces across the UK, local councils, Neighbourhood Watch, Checkatrade, Lloyds Bank and True call.

What support do you offer victims and their families?

Think Jessica's greatest tool is the website; thousands of people have used it to educate and protect their vulnerable relatives. We produce educational booklets, DVDs, posters and other material distributed nationally. We believe the best protection you can give potential victims is education. Victims reported to Think Jessica are forwarded to the National Trading Standards scam team who in turn refer them to Trading Standards officers local to the victim.

Thanks to years of your campaigning, Royal Mail and Trading Standards began working together to train postal workers in 2014 to spot scam mail reaching victims. Typically what do they look out for?

People receiving large amounts of mail - although in some instances once a victim has been flagged up to Trading Standards they have already lost a lot of money or are in denial, like Jessica, and no amount of persuasion can break the grip the scammers have over them.

The National Scams team working with Royal Mail have seized large amounts of mail and victims details are passed to Trading Standards officers local to the victim for a one to one visit - but again some victims ignore professional advice and continue to send money to scams. These are the victims (JSS victims) we are trying to get protection for – a change in law would enable their mail to be redirected to a trusted person who would hand over the genuine mail only and fit a call blocker. Just because someone is not diagnosed as having a mental incapacity or can't/won’t recognise they are a victim, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be protected.

In 2014 you received an OBE for your voluntary work with the metropolitan police on Operation Sterling; what can you tell us about this?

In 2010 the met police set up Operation Sterling – the officers had no knowledge of postal fraud and the sergeant in charge shadowed me as I gave talks and visited victims so the team could get a better understanding of this type of crime and learn from my knowledge. In the first operation of its kind, they seized scam mail entering Heathrow airport - it weighed around eight tonnes. I was awarded my OBE for the four years voluntary work with Operation Sterling, and which resulted in the police, government and Royal Mail working together for the first time.

You’re trying to have Jessica’s Scam Syndrome recognised as a condition. What is Jessica’s Scam Syndrome (JSS) and what should we look out for in our elderly relatives?

The psychology the scammers use is so powerful it can shut down a vulnerable person's normal thought process. Victims with JSS focus on the prize and not the money they are sending to claim it. The tactics used by these criminals are so sophisticated although to outsiders looking in it's easy to see that the letters and phone calls are scams. However the victim is bombarded to such an extent that the letters and phone calls knit together and make sense to them. Criminals posing as clairvoyants instruct the victim to ignore any intervention by advising that those 'trying to interfere are jealous of them or wish them harm'.

Victims with JSS often (but not always) receive large amounts of mail, they are often short of money and food and preoccupied – making more than usual visits to post office, and/or the bank. Some ask friends or relatives for loans and promise people gifts or money. The problem is victims with JSS will go to any lengths to keep their relationship with their ‘friends’ for example, convincing their family they have stopped while they can carry on in secret.

In many of the case studies on your website, victims appear to receive mail from Reader’s Digest. What’s the connection?

Readers Digest is just one of thousands of companies which sell mailing lists categorising people as being elderly. These lists also categorise people as being interested in and have already responded to competitions.

Each year Mass Marketing Scams cause approximately £9 billion pounds worth of detriment to UK consumers (Age UK, 2015), is the Government doing enough to tackle this crime?

Things have moved forward over the last few years but for victims with JSS and their desperate relatives nothing has changed. The Royal Mail is threatening those behind scam mail contracts with prosecution if they continue to send this type of mail. However the scammers just start a new scam and new contract and so it goes on. There is no prosecution or repercussion, no deterrent for the criminal - this needs to change.

What is Think Jessica’s greatest achievement to date?

As well as countless regional campaigns we have carried out three national poster campaigns on backlit billboards in shopping centres, train stations and supermarkets, Scam Mail is Blackmail, Silence of the Scams and Scam Trap. All our hard-hitting campaigns have received excellent feedback and enormous publicity. But my biggest achievement personally was to get people to listen and take action; I was a sole voice for the five years my mother was a victim, and another four years after that - that’s nine years of banging a drum – I spent time at the attorney general’s office educating the team setting up Action Fraud and got scam mail on their reporting agenda, that was a big achievement as well.

What advice would you give to anyone who thinks a friend or relative might be a scam victim?

Visit our website, send for our educational material and if necessary send us the victim's details and we will pass it on to the National Scams team who will arrange for a Trading Standards office to get in touch.

You can contact Think Jessica via the website, or follow @thinkjessica

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

#slamprizescams #prizescams #scams #thinkjessica

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How to identify a prize scam on Facebook

Coupons, once in a lifetime holidays, luxury cruises, first-class flights and the list goes on. Facebook is saturated with “giveaways” and “prize promotions” which are constantly shared by our friends, appearing on our newsfeed. Not only is this frustrating, but more often than not, these “too good to be true” prizes are indeed non-existent.

Liking and sharing a Facebook post, you may think what’s the harm? Like-farming pages, which ask users to like and share content to allegedly be in for a chance of winning, or redirect entrants to an ulterior website to fill in an entry form, then sell on their thousands of collated personal details to marketing companies, allowing access to users’ timelines to overload with spam. This not only opens you up to countless spammy links and even scams appearing in your newsfeed, but also leads to your friends being subjected, like a virus, further extending the scammers’ reach. It can also result in you unwittingly signing up to a telephone subscription service or even identity theft. Ultimately, the only people that benefit from these prize promotions are scammers - organised gangs of criminals.

So how can you spot a Facebook scam? There are numerous clues which give the game away.

Verify the page. When brands organise promotions, these will be shared on their official page, which will usually contain a blue tick verifying its status. Like-farming pages will not have this tick.

How many fans does the Facebook page have? Once again, check whether the brand in question has an official page. For the promotion below for example, a page titled “Walt Disney Giveaway’s” was apparently offering 150 tickets to Disneyland or Walt Disney World. The official Walt Disney World page has over 15 million fans, and Disney a staggering 50 million, whereas this page, obviously with no blue tick, had a mere few thousand. Does this seem plausible? Extremely unlikely.

Are there any misspellings? Fake pages often count numerous spelling mistakes. Check this one out below, where a page stating to be Dodge allegedly had 215 Dodge Charger 1970 models to give away. It just gives me a headache trying to read this. You can be sure that brands will never publish such grammatical errors and will always ensure their publications are seamlessly communicated.

Been invited to like a page where 1,000 iPads are up for grabs because of slightly damaged packaging? Premium brands such as Apple never give away their products for free, regardless of their status. In fact, these brands have no need to give away any merchandise, as their strong customer base is built on loyalty. And if they ever wished to do so, they would most likely choose a more targeted approach with an acutely thought through campaign.

Asking entrants to like and share a page goes against Facebook’s terms of service regarding prize promotions. Facebook forbids these methods as means of entry for prize draws. Those responsible for managing big brand’s social media pages should be aware of this and won’t ask you to do so.

If you’re unsure about a prize promotion, please apply the points above. And most importantly, never feel pressured to enter.
Have you ever participated in a Facebook prize promotion scam? What scams can you recall? Share your thoughts below.

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

#slamprizescams #prizescams #scams #facebookscams #fakeprizedraws #fakegiveaways

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How to spot a prize scam

Everyone likes to win a prize - be it money, a car or a luxury holiday - and paying a small amount of money, say £25, to get your prize seems like a good deal but is it really? These prize draws are scams; there is never a car on its way to you or a luxury holiday to go on. The scams are created by organised predatory criminals intent on parting victims from their money to fund the criminal’s luxury lifestyles, or in some cases terrorism.

Anyone can be a scam victim regardless of age, gender, education or economic background. The National Trading Standards Scams Team has revealed that the age range of scam victims is 19 - 106 years old.
Scams cost the UK economy between £5- 10 billion a year and can cause deep emotional damage to victims. The stress and pain of victimisation often results in depression, withdrawal and isolation from family and friends and the deterioration of physical and mental health. Studies have proven that vulnerable adults defrauded in their own home lose confidence and are 2.5 times more likely to either die or go into residential care. In some cases victims have been known to either consider, attempt or commit suicide.

How to spot a Prize Scam


The criminals behind prize scams can be very convincing and will use flattering language to get you to part with your money; one prize draw scam had the accompanying letter “One look at your customer file tells me you have the ability to recognise a great lotto opportunity when you see it. So I know the news that follows will, quite rightly, leave you with a delightful buzz of anticipation. Indeed, by the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll probably feel like you can almost touch the money.”

Authentic prize draws do not need to use this sort of language as their genuine prizes, with no fees payable, are enough to attract people to enter.


Prize scams will often have urgent deadlines for responding such as ‘This Financial update requires your immediate attention. To claim prize opportunity you must act within 14 days.”

However the scams do not say when the 14 days start as there is rarely a date on the envelope, is it from the date you received the letter? If so this can vary from person to person depending on when their mail is delivered to them or their delivery route. These urgent timescales are used to force you to respond quickly and not take time to consider if the prize draw is legitimate. A legitimate prize draw will give you exact details of the deadline for entries or for claiming a prize, sometimes down the last minute you can apply.

Check the small print

Many scams are outright lies that have no intention of ever paying you your prize money or awarding you your prize however on some you can check the small print to see what you might actually receive if you enter.

One scam claims “Finalised Award Accounting directly regarding your ID 19001882401 confirms the Total Award Payment Monies in the full amount showing THREE MILLION FIVE HUNDRED NINETY ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED THIRTY FIVE POUNDS. This figure is guaranteed accurate and the Funds are the full total as shown for you 100% guaranteed.” However when you check the small print it reads ‘This is not a sweepstakes, contest or a game of chance. This company is a research and publishing company that produces reports on sweepstakes and contests one can enter that are conducted by third party companies.”

There is no money to ‘win’ and the ‘processing fee’ that you pay will only get you a list of competitions or sweepstakes that you could enter that might result in you winning £3 million. Always remember to check any small print for competitions and prize draws to check what you could actually win.


You can only win a lottery or prize promotion if you have entered it, this may sounds like common sense but criminals can create very convincing documents and letters confirming your supposed win in a prize draw that you have never entered. Keep a record of all prize promotions that you have entered and only respond to letters from competitions that you have entered.

Pay to Enter

Many scam prize draws will ask you to pay a processing fee to release your winning prize. This is a payment to enter a prize draw which is classified as a lottery under the English Gambling Act 2005 as it involves payment and a prize which is awarded by chance.

It is illegal for a company to run a lottery unless they have a lottery operating from the Gambling Commission. Lottery operating licences are only available to local authorities, non-commercial organisations or people running lotteries on their behalf. For a list of legal lotteries running in the UK check out

How to respond to a scam

Now you know how to spot a scam prize draw what should you do if you are sent one?

Never respond to a scam. You may be tempted to ask to be taken off the mailing list or tell the criminals that you know it is a scam but by doing this you are confirming that you reside at your address. Many criminals will send out scam letters just to confirm the details they have about potential victims are correct. If you respond they will sell you information on to others as a confirmed resident at that address.

The best thing to do if you receive a scam prize draw letter is to put it where it belongs- in the bin (after removing and destroying any identifying information such as your address).

If you are worried about scams then you can contact Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06. If necessary they will be able to put you in contact with your local Trading Standards office.

If you would like to help National Trading Standards Scams Team take a stand against scams then visit and become a Friend Against Scams. You can learn more about the different types of scams, how to spot a scam victim and more on how to report a scam.

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

#slamprizescams #prizescams #scams

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Tips to avoid unexpected phone charges

Don't get caught out by a prize promotion scam that signs you up unwittingly to a phone subscription service; here are some top tips for avoiding unexpected phone charges courtesy of David Owen, Senior Communications Executive at PhonepayPlus.

When browsing the internet and when on social media, you may see promotions offering the opportunity to win the latest smartphone or vouchers for a supermarket. Many online competitions and quizzes operate in this way and charge you for initial and ongoing entry through your phone bill.

Here are our five top tips to help you know how you can be charged through your phone bill and what to be aware of with these types of promotions and services.

Treat your phone like a wallet – if you enter your phone number online, or access content or services, you may be charged through your phone bill.

Watch what you click on – know what you are agreeing to before you click on an online promotion.

Look for the price – promotions need to make it clear the costs involved before you enter.

Read the small print - you may be subscribing to an ongoing chargeable service.

Watch our video on Do you know what you are paying for with your mobile?

Unexpected charge?

Remember to check your phone bill regularly. If you do spot an unexpected charge:

Do not delete the message that confirms your subscription or payment.

It is important to have the details of the service and payment in order to find out more about it. You can stop a service by sending a new message STOP ALL to the relevant shortcode (the five or six digit number usually beginning 5, 6, 7 or 8).

Check if it is a premium rate service. Premium rate services may appear as:

operator billing, such as Payforit, charge to mobile or direct-to-bill allows consumers to make purchases charged to a phone bill without sending a premium rate text message, for example buying an app from Google Play; or

premium rate numbers and shortcodes, e.g. SMS shortcodes which are five or six-digits long and usually begin with 5, 6, 7 or 8 and used to, for example, donate to charity, enter competitions and download games.

Contact the company that runs the service (also known as the service provider).

You can use our online number checker to find out who runs a service and their contact details otherwise contact your network provider.

Still need help? If you are not satisfied after contacting the service provider then contact PhonepayPlus either online at or by phone on 0300 30 300 20 (Monday - Friday, 9.30am - 5pm).

Watch our video on What to do if you spot an unexpected charge on your phone bill.

For further information about premium rate and phone-paid services then check out the consumer pages of the PhonepayPlus website.
PhonepayPlus is the regulator for premium rate and phone-paid services - the goods and services that you can buy by charging the cost to your phone bills and mobile pre-pay accounts.

In autumn 2016 we will be changing our name to Phone-paid Services Authority (PSA). This new name explains more clearly who we are, what we do and reflects our forward-looking approach to the market we regulate.

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

#slamprizescams #prizescams #scams

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Prizes scams can cost you your identity

Fraud prevention expert, Toni Sless of Risk Avengers, talks prize scams and identity theft.

Identity fraud (AKA identity theft) is when a fraudster abuses personal data or identity details in order to impersonate an innocent party or creates a fictitious identity in order to open a new account or take out a new product, such as a credit card. Identity Fraud increased by 49% in 2015. Cifas recorded 113,839 reported cases in 2014 as opposed to 169,592 reported cases in 2015. Cifas, Fraudscape 2016
Criminals are increasingly using scams to trick people into disclosing their personal details or parting with their money. #TakeFive – stop and think (to prevent fraud (scams) in their tracks).

In support of #SlamPrizeScams week and to ensure you’re #scamaware the following are some top tips to assist in keeping your identity and personal information secure:

Never respond to cold phone calls or emails asking for account details, Personal Identification Numbers (PINs), passwords or personal information. This information should be kept private #scamaware

Stay safe online, protect your computer from viruses, Trojans and malware and avoid suspicious websites. Use reputable anti-virus software, keep your devices updated and be wary of the links you click on and documents you download.

Register with Mailing Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service.

Check your bank and credit card statements on a regular basis to ensure there are no suspicious transactions. If there are or you don’t recognise them, call your bank on the number provided on the bank of your card or on your bank statement.

The Home Office recommends regular checks on your credit report as an effective protection against identity fraud. These credit reference agencies offer a credit report checking service to alert you to any key changes on your credit file that could indicate potential fraudulent activity: Callcredit; Equifax; Experian; ClearScore; Noddle
Shred documents that contain personal information, eg bank statements, utility bills, mobile phone bills, council tax notifications.

Don’t give too much away on social media like your pet’s name(s), children’s name(s), date of birth as these could be used as passwords or they might be your answers to security questions.

If you move home, check your credit report two to three months after your move.

We’re not aware of any organisations that would ask for money up front to collect a prize / winnings. Any request for a fee payment is a good indication that someone is trying to defraud you.

If you get a call purporting to be from your bank and you’re worried about the source of the call, wait five minutes and call your bank from a different telephone making sure there is a dialling tone.

If the organisation provided an email address to respond to, be very suspicious of addresses such as or because these are free to get hold of.

In the unfortunate event you do become a victim of identity fraud, then there are several things you can do:

Inform your bank immediately.

Contact Action Fraud. They will register the fraud and will also be able to advise if you could contact other organisations.

Register for Cifas Protective Registration.

Get a copy of your credit reference file which will alert you to any unusual loans.

Don’t wait to act, even if the debts or goods weren’t purchased by you, they will be registered in your name and at your address.

You should report all lost or stolen documents, such as passports, driving licences, plastic cards, cheque books to the relevant organisation.

If you think your post has been re-directed without your authorisation, then contact Royal Mail on 03457 740 740 as they have an investigation unit which will be able to assist.

The Risk Avengers is a collaboration of three well respected and experienced industry experts. Toni Sless, Dr Jessica Barker and Sharon Conheady pool their extensive knowledge and experience in the fraud prevention, physical security, cyber security, social engineering and penetration testing arenas.

The Risk Avengers provide consultancy and training to businesses on the minefield that is information security, fraud awareness and prevention. Follow them @riskavengers or email

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

#slamprizescams #prizescams #scams 

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Pensioner receives 30,000 prize scam letters

For five years, 70-year old Jessica was hounded by organised gangs who contacted her via both post and phone. Royal Mail delivered approx 30,000 scam letters. She spent most of her time reading, sorting and responding to criminals, spending all her savings as a result. Her daughter, Marilyn Baldwin OBE, believes the torment inflicted by the scammers contributed to her death and as a result set up Think Jessica in 2007. This is Jessica’s story.


When Jessica was in her seventies she decied to continue her late husband’s subscription to Readers Digest. She got heavily involved in a competition run by ”Tom Champagne” who convinced her she was on the cusp of winning a large cash prize. To stay in with a chance she bought hundreds of pounds worth of books, tapes, CDs and various other things she neither needed nor could afford. She never did receive a prize, but “Tom Champagne” sent her many cheques made out in her name. She once tried to pay one into the bank but hadn’t spotted the small wording that said the cheque was only a sample. She did however receive something for her loyalty, a plastic champagne glass to celebrate her win.

Despite her family continually trying to explain that some companies use very devious sales techniques, Jessica was really disappointed. She wanted to financially help the ones she loved and donate money to the children’s charities she cared about. Jessica eventually received a very exciting letter, which looked like an important document, stating she had won a competition and promising she would receive a big cheque if she sent a small fee. Jessica thought this was the big win that she had been waiting for from “Tom Champagne” and quickly sent off the fee. On the claim form she put down all her personal details.

Suckers List

The fact is Readers Digest sells mailing lists. The letter wasn’t from “Tom Champagne” or Readers Digest, it was Jessica’s first scam letter. When family members realised what she had done, they tried to explain that she had fallen for a scam, but Jessica had never heard about scam mail and didn’t believe them. No money ever arrived, but the scam mail increased. Unbeknown to her, the scammers who sent that first scam letter had put her name on a ‘suckers’ list and her details were sold to criminals all over the world. Soon she would receive around 30 letters a day from all over the world, with “Guaranteed Winner”, “Time Sensitive Document”, “Reply Immediately to Release Your Award” and various other slogans and logos plastered all over them.

Jessica was sending nearly all of her pension each week to keep up with the scammer’s demands. “Clairvoyants” had also jumped on the bandwagon pretending to be her friends and convincing her that her family were jealous of her forthcoming wealth and pretending to be concerned for her welfare, or telling her that they could see harm heading towards her or her family and could keep bad luck away for a fee. She befriended a certain “clairvoyant” from Holland and would send him personal letters along with his payment, often staying up until 3am trying to keep up with the scammer’s demands.

30,000 scam mail letters

Jessica’s house was full of scam mail, filling cupboards, drawers, wardrobes and even the shed. Her daughter Marilyn found and removed over 30,000 scam mail letters, and also letters threatening disconnection from the gas and water board and a letter from a bailiff, threatening to remove the contents of her house, all of which she still has in storage. Jessica continually gave out her phone number and would be phoned late at night. Marilyn could see her mum had been brainwashed by the volume and content of the scam mail. But Jessica firmly believed that the money she was sending was an investment that would make her secure in her final years. Her family couldn’t believe how much money she had spent on goods from catalogues including Vital Beauty, Biotonic, Vitamail, Fredrich Mueller, Best Of and other “companies” who sold overpriced goods. Jessica could have parted with anything up to £50,000, but nobody really knows the total amount.

Jessica's health suffers

Jessica had also suggested releasing some equity from her house to continue making payments; fortunately the house was in the name of her three children so she couldn’t sell it. She started to panic when she couldn’t find enough money to fill all the pre-addressed envelopes with PO Box addresses from all over the world, and so she stopped paying her domestic bills. She told no one about the financial mess she was in, except her favourite “clairvoyant” from Holland. She would be upset and embarrassed at not being able to give gifts to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and would invent excuses for not receiving the promised cheque in time, such as “the Christmas post causes a lot of mail to get delayed or lost”. She started having panic attacks and palpitations, one of the clairvoyants who used fear as a way of extracting money told her that there was an evil force on a higher plain, Jessica had not been able to cover his “fee” to keep the evil away and thought that the evil was upstairs. She became breathless and fearful every time she tried to climb up the stairs. Her body and mind were at breaking point with the continual torment that the scammers had inflicted on her over the years.

Marilyn found some of the many heartbreaking letters Jessica had written to those she perceived as her friends. She confided in them about everything and trusted and befriended those who were manipulating, teasing and taking from her. Marilyn and Jessica had always had a close relationship, but driving her mother to the Building Society and waiting outside whilst she drew out all her pension for scams were amongst the only days they would spend together without arguments. Jessica would sometimes ask her daughter to drive her around to look at houses for sale, saying that she wanted to “set up” her grandchildren before she died. Her electric was on a “pay as you go” meter as she couldn’t keep up with her bills. Marilyn would always ensure it was topped up and would pay for her food, but would often feel bitter as she felt she were subsidising the criminals. Jessica missed a family wedding and other invitations so she could be in when the courier arrived, fearing she may miss a “delivery” from an Australian lottery or some other bogus company. She told Marilyn that if she discussed her business with anybody else she would disown her. Yet Marilyn still tried to seek help, contacting the police, social services and every charity with Help, Concern and Support in the title and her mother’s local MP, but the advice that she got was to tell her ”if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” and not to respond and throw away.

Marilyn takes control

At the end of July 2007 Jessica was taken in to hospital. She came out after about two weeks but a few days later collapsed and was admitted to hospital again, where the family were told she had a heart attack. In a final attempt to help her, Marilyn forged an authentic looking document and gave it to her mother in hospital, which stated that all the competitions had closed; she wouldn’t be getting any more mail and would receive her winnings in the New Year. This wasn’t false as Marilyn’s husband had arranged to sell a thin strip of land that belonged to Jessica’s terraced house. Marilyn also took her mother’s Building Society book and one of her utility bills to the post office, forged her signature and redirected the mail.

Marilyn moved in with Jessica for three weeks when she came out of hospital. They would go out most days and look at things she could buy with her “winnings”. She was delighted to plan a big party for when the payout would arrive, never suspecting that the absence of her mail had anything to do with her daughter and believing she had proved everyone wrong. In October 2007, Marilyn went on holiday, with her aunts taking over and Social Services calling in. The day before she was due back, Jessica was rushed back to hospital where she passed away aged 83. One of the last things she said was “Marilyn, has the post been?”

‘If we do nothing to protect those who are being exploited for whatever reason, whether it be vulnerability, trust, confusion or ignorance how can we ever stop this horrendous criminal activity?’ Marilyn Baldwin

Do you know a vulnerable person who has been the victim of prize scams, or perhaps you've been a victim? Share your story below.

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Why people fall for prize scams?

Martina Dove's research concentrates on the psychology of fraud. Understanding what scammers do to persuade us and what makes each of us vulnerable to fraud at different times. Why do some people say no and some have no problem saying no? What makes one person find a fraudulent offer attractive whilst others recognise it is a scam? Understanding these factors is crucial for successful fraud prevention. Here Martina explains why people fall for prize scams.

Everyone likes winning prizes. You get something for free - is there anything better than that? Prize promotions have been around forever but social media has really given them a platform to flourish and reach a wide audience. A prize draw by a legitimate company might mean they will ask you to like their Facebook page and share the post for a chance to be entered. This is relatively simple to do, whilst for them it is an opportunity for free advertising by word of mouth. But scammers have caught up with this concept too, creating fake social media accounts, imitating legitimate companies and asking you to like and share for a chance of a win; a free year worth of flights, a cruise and so on... Often these prizes sound too good to be true, and they are. Your details are often stolen and sold on to other scammers who will target you with fraudulent offers.

Sadly, it is often the most vulnerable people that get targeted by scams. Fake postal prize draws and lotteries defraud many people each year and the concept is always relatively similar; you are told you have won a prize but need to send some information back, after which you may need to send an administration fee in order for the prize to be sent to you. This often leads to several other fees. But what makes people engage with fraudulent prize draws and keeps them sufficiently engaged for a while? A good explanation comes from research by Langenderfer and Shimp (2001) proposed model of scamming vulnerability, that explains how visceral factors guide our behaviours (also Lowenstein, 1996). Visceral factors are drive states such as hunger, fear, emotions etc. and they have an effect on our immediate behaviour. When we are scared, we are likely to run away from what scares us, when we are hungry, we will find something to eat and when we are excited about something or have a strong emotional reaction to it, we may do things that we would not normally do to get it. This emotional reaction often undermines careful information processing. When people are offered what seems to be a great deal or something awesome for free, the excitement felt takes over the usual routes of careful information processing. Scammers are aware of this, therefore scam offers are designed to be extremely enticing. They often have an expiration date, limited time in which to decide, which evokes fear that the offer will go away unless we act straight away. This, in turn, may make us act hastily or not in our best interest. When we are in a heightened emotional state, we are more likely to be vulnerable to scams. In such a state, it is a level of self-control we possess that decides whether we fall for a scam or not. A healthy dose of cynicism and background knowledge (i.e. knowing how these offers persuade) is also something that may subdue the initial excitement at the offer at hand and allow us to think clearly.

Another study also explains the power of visceral processing. Fischer, Lea and Evans (2013) observed differences between people who, in the past, complied with scams and those who never have. Those who reported compliance, reported having positive emotions at a thought of winning a large prize. This is why prizes that seem 'too good to be true' are almost always bad news.

Another tool scammers use is 'proximity' of a prize or a win. Proximity is important in how appealing the offer will be, the closer the winnings, the more exciting the offer will appear. Imagine if someone told you to enter a prize draw to win something in 20 years. You probably would not bother, but if the win was just around the corner, the prize immediately looks more attractive. Another scamming tool with prize draws and lottery scams is that scammers need to keep it vivid for you to be interested for a period of time, this is why people often receive reminders of the win each time they are asked to pay yet another administration fee before the prize can be released.

What to ask yourself, if you receive news of winning a prize draw or a lottery win out of the blue is 'how can I win something I did not enter'? Often, in a heat of the moment, we don't think to ask even the most obvious questions. Can you win a prize or win a lottery if you don't remember buying a ticket or entering a prize draw? Sometimes people think that they must be an exception to the rule for winning something out of the blue, but in reality, exceptions to the rule are extremely rare. If, on the other hand, you like entering prize draws, it still pays to be a bit careful. Make sure you Google the company and what is on offer as often this will unearth information if it is a known scam going around. Ask yourself, is the prize 'too good to be true'? Don't assume the deal is legitimate just because your friend shared it on social media in hope of winning, as this is how scam offers proliferate. And take the time to think things through instead of acting on impulse, when you are excited about something.

When it comes to scams, it is best to question everything and assume nothing. It may just save you a lot of grief in the end.

For further insights, read Martina's research, and keep up with her via her blog. She's on Twitter @curiousshrink.

Do you recognise any of these tools used by scammers? Or have you been persuaded by some of their tactics? Share your story with us below.

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

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ANYONE can fall for a scam

Magazine editor, Steven Short, is proof that even the savviest fall for scams. From rescue dog story to money taken from his mobile in one click of the mouse. Here's his story.

I am a 40-something magazine editor and journalist. My fairly hectic job sees me commission lengthy features from serious journalists, I also have to keep tabs on a biggish budget and a tight schedule. As well as this I write freelance features for various magazines and websites. Who says men can’t multitask!

Despite such a ‘grown up’ job, however, I still somehow manage to find time in the day to look at online posts about abandoned dogs and do quizzes like ‘How Well Do You Know The London Underground?’ (turns out very well).

Last week, taking a screen break, I hopped onto Facebook. Along with posts by friends on exotic holidays and in fancy restaurants there was a story about a dog that had been rescued. I clicked on it and was mildly surprised when the new page turned out to be a quiz, not the tale of Fido rescued from near death by way of a well somewhere in India. All I had to do was answer three simple questions (I can’t even remember what they were) and apparently a £100 voucher to a high-street store would be mine.

I clicked through the three questions, vaguely checking that there was nothing dodgy going on. Everything seemed fine. I was then told I’d won (hurrah!) and that in order to claim my prize I just had to key in the code they would send by text.

And like a fool I keyed in my mobile number. At no point was I made aware that there would be any cost implication to what I was doing. Until I keyed in the code they sent me by text. Soon after I received another text informing me that ‘U have joined XXXXXXXX, compete to win great prizes every week for £4.50 per week until you send STOP to XXXX’.

I immediately texted STOP and was greeted with a ‘not delivered’ reply. I tried again. I also contacted the website given in the message and asked them to confirm that I was not subscribed and politely pointed out that nothing had been mentioned about cost or subscription during our interaction.

The next day I got a reply confirming that I had been ‘unsubscribed’. Checking my mobile bill I saw that I had been charged £8.50 for the privilege.

I never won the voucher!

Have you ever fallen for a prize promotion scam on Facebook, or another social media channel? Share your story below.

The copyright in this post belongs to Spark&Fuse Marketing Ltd. All rights reserved. You are welcome to republish this post provided you contact us for permission first and prominently credit us in any republication.

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