The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is trying to raise awareness of bogus prize draw mailings - by organising a fake prize scam themselves. The OFT said more than half a million people are conned each year by fake lotteries, prize draws and sweepstakes sent out by post, email, fax or telephone.
The phoney prize mailshots often tell people they have won a massive cash prize but, before they can claim, they must send money off for administration or processing fees, or a prize tax. The prizes never exist, and collectively the 500,000 people falling for these scams every year lose £320 million. Victims are often repeatedly targeted too.
As part of the OFT's scam awareness month, the consumer watchdog will send out thousands of fake prize draw mailings to UK residents. It has said it will target people in the Midlands, South East, North East and Wales who have previously responded to prize draws. These areas are hotspots for fake prize mailings, the OFT said.
The OFT mailing carries the false name of 'SuperMegaLotto' and promises a £15,000 win. It's all been personalised to make it appear exclusive to each recipient, who is urged to act quickly to claim their prize by looking inside.
However, it has been made clear that the mailing has been sent by the OFT as an educational tool to help consumers spot similar scams.
Detailed advice enclosed with the OFT mailing points out that a genuine prize draw or lottery would never ask the winner to pay a fee to claim their major prize. It tells the recipients to "always stop, think and think again if an offer sounds too good to be true."
The mailing also includes a freephone number to find out more about scams and to request a free information booklet.
Bill Hughes, director general of the Serious Organised Crime Agency , said: "The cost of these scams is huge.
"We are committed to working with partners both in the UK and abroad to tackle this problem, but at the same time it is vital to raise awareness of these scams so that people can help protect themselves," Hughes said.