Police say families across Lancashire could be sitting on a ticking time bomb as vulnerable elderly relatives are preyed on by prize draw scammers.
Officers have said in many cases families only realise victims have spent their savings on replying to scams when the person passes away and their affairs are looked into.
The annual Scamnesty campaign appeal urges the public to post mail scams in special bins around the county to help Trading Standards monitor the latest frauds.
The most prolific in Lancashire is bogus prize draws, which form more than half of mail scams and involve sending small sums of money such as a “release fee” to be able to claim large prizes before the victim is eventually asked for larger sums of money.
Often a vital clue as to where the scam has originated from is on the envelope it came in, so today investigators took the unusual step of appealing to people to also post the envelope the scam came in.
Agencies face the frustration of rarely being able to act as criminals often target addresses in Lancashire from other countries outside the UK’s legal jurisdiction, meaning they cannot be prosecuted by our laws.
Lee Ormandy, of Lancashire Trading Standards, added: “A family may have an expectation that their relative was comfortably off, only to find all their money has gone to the scammers.”
Det Con Mark Aldridge, a fraud officer for Lancashire police, said: “A lot of scams are sent out by post, like a mail shot from legitimate firms. The envelope may have a frank or licence number which can be helpful.
“The majority of this type of crime is never reported - the victim will not accept they are a victim, or feels too embarrassed or afraid to come forward. Often the victim keeps it a secret from family.
“It will only become apparent that what their families thought was there isn’t when that person passes away.
“Elderly victims are often lonely and the more vulnerable have little contact with the outside world so receiving something from the postman is their lifeline, the only contact they have. They believe these criminals are their friends.”