If you live in Scotland – and even if you live elsewhere in the UK – you need to take care. I’m not talking about the Covid-19 threat, although of course we should all pay attention to the government’s ‘Hands. Space. Face’ public information campaign. (Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure that’s the latest slogan, but even if it is by the time you read this a new mantra may well have been introduced.) No, Scots are being warned to take a careful look at their post as they are currently being targeted by a fake ‘postcode lottery’ scam.
People in the Highlands and on the Isle of Skye are said to have been particularly affected by letters which purport to be from the People’s Postcode Lottery. This is a genuine organisation, which dispenses cash prizes to thousands of winners across the country every week, and the letters inform recipients that they’ve won a share of £425,000.
The missives look rather official. They appear to come from a head office address in London and signed by one ‘Susan Blair’, who is listed as the lottery’s supposed president, but – and this is the red flag – they say that winners must pay a ‘processing fee’ in order to release their prize. (Incidentally, I did a quick search and – what a surprise – Susan doesn’t appear to be on LinkedIn.)
David MacKenzie, Trading Standards Manager at the Highland Council, told North Ayrshire local paper, the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, ‘Scam mail can take the form of fake lotteries or imitate genuine lotteries. Scam mail is sent with the sole intention of obtaining money through deception and/or fraud. It is a common theme among lottery scams to ask for an upfront fee to release winnings.’
Don’t pay the price
David is right there. Sometimes the scammers will say it’s for administration, bank fees or delivery, but a legitimate lottery wouldn’t ask winners for a fee. It is not best practice. If you suspect you’ve received a fake prize draw letter like this one, I want to be really clear – don’t pay to claim the prize you appear to have been awarded, and don’t give them your personal or financial details either. If in doubt, go online, independently find the contact details for the organisation the letter appears to come from and get in touch to check the authenticity of the win.
How to avoid prize draw scams is something I’ve written about before, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that if you haven’t signed up to play the People’s Postcode Lottery in the first place, then you can’t be a winner, can you?! This was exactly the same for the so-called fake Facebook lottery, which I covered last year – it was impossible to win, because it didn’t actually exist!
All too common
A spokesperson for the People’s Postcode Lottery told the paper, ‘In common with other high-profile organisations and businesses, criminals may seek to exploit our reputation by using our name in fraudulent communications. This is an issue which we take extremely seriously. We liaise closely with the relevant authorities, including the police. We encourage anyone who receives a potentially fraudulent communication to contact Action Fraud, the national fraud and cyber-crime reporting centre.’
The spokesperson is right there too. You might think it’s not worth reporting letters like these, but if we’re ever going to stop the scammers – and as a Scambassador for National Trading Standards Scams Team and Friends Against Scams I’m absolutely committed to doing that – then we need a body of examples and evidence.
Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and a National Trading Standards Scams Team Scambassador.