25/01/2011

Met Police Seize Scam Mail Aimed At UK Victims

In the first operation of its kind, officers from the Metropolitan Police Service's Economic and Specialist Crime Unit (Operation Sterling) took possession of a bulk delivery of scam mail intended for vulnerable victims across the UK and searched and closed five virtual offices used by the scammers.

Sent by professional fraudsters, the letters are designed to con recipients into investing in bogus schemes such as fake lotteries, share frauds and inheritance scams. They depend on persuading victims to transfer money to the criminals based on promises of valuable goods, services, or benefits that are never delivered.

After replying to the first 'tempter' letter, victims' names are put on a 'suckers' list which is then sold to other criminals all over the world. Sucker lists are comprised of some of the most vulnerable people in society, namely the elderly and those suffering from illnesses such as dementia.

Chronic victims of scam mail end up being hounded by numerous criminal organisations and an estimated £3.5 billion is 'scammed' from UK citizens each year. Around £2.4 billion of this is believed to be as a result of mail scams.

The operation, which is being run in partnership with Royal Mail and international mail service provider Spring Global Mail, is part of a long-running police investigation into the organised criminal networks behind these scams.

The investigation began earlier this year when detectives, with the help of Trading Standards and other police forces, contacted 11 scam mail victims from across the UK who had been repeatedly targeted. These people were receiving more than 100 letters each week, the majority of which originated from outside the UK.

The 11 victims were asked to collate their post over a four-week period. This post was taken to New Scotland Yard where it was analysed. It was then sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, where a senior lawyer deemed it to be illegal under the Fraud Act 2006.

Postal marks printed on the envelopes, known as a postage paid impression (PPI), were then used to trace the post back to source. This was done with the help of Royal Mail and Spring Global Mail.

In one case, a total of 27 scams were linked to one PPI. In a bid to crack down on the criminals behind these scams, Royal Mail and Spring Global Mail agreed to alert police when the next shipment of post bearing this PPI arrived in the UK.

Today detectives visited a UK sorting office where they seized the freight and impounded it.

The letters will become exhibits in a criminal investigation, providing detectives with an opportunity to identify chronic victims of crime, and the perpetrators of that crime, and to take appropriate action.

At the same time, five return addresses or 'virtual offices' in London identified as part of the scam process were shut down and searched for criminal evidence. These addresses are privately rented mail boxes.

As well as stopping hundreds of items of scam mail from reaching vulnerable targets, detectives hope today's operation will send warning messages to both the victims and perpetrators of this crime.

(BMcN/GK)

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