Trading Standards officers are contacting 250 residents in Bucks who are named a so-called ‘suckers’ list compiled by criminal gangs who scam vulnerable people.
The team is liaising with the county council’s adult social care team and other agencies to work through the addresses found on the Scams Hub List.
They will be making contact to warn potential victims about the risks of responding to these scams and with sensitivity help wean them off or at least mitigate their potential losses.
The list, containing more than 100,000 names of vulnerable and susceptible people across the UK, was seized in 2012 by police investigating national mail scams.
In the past two years Bucks Trading Standards has received almost 100 reports of victims who have fallen prey to the junk mail scammers.
Their total loss was nearly £150,000.
In the approach to Christmas the team has intensified their investigations and senior Trading Standards officer Chris Holden said there could be many more victims across the county who haven’t reported their losses.
Nationally, only one in 20 scams is reported.
Mr Holden said: “The number of victims in Buckinghamshire could well be in the thousands, and we could be talking about losses of millions of pounds. We want the warning to go out loud and clear to encourage more people to let us know.’
Typical scams that crop up in junk mail include lottery ‘wins’ and prize draws that promise big wins if the victim sends back money, and catalogues offering over-priced goods that entice responses with the promise of a cash prize.
Officers have already uncovered an address in rural Buckinghamshire acting as a reply centre for people responding to a prize draw scam with £5 ‘administration fee’ cheques.
On one day they seized 98 responses and £490, which will be returned to senders.
Mr Holden said: “Mail scams target older, lonely and more vulnerable people, and particularly susceptible are people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“Frequently scammers will follow up their mail with a persuasive phone call, which can be very intimidating.”
Martin Phillips, cabinet member for community engagement, said: “This pernicious crime is often perpetrated by criminals at arm’s length abroad. It’s a scourge on our community and the work our Trading Standards team is doing to help residents has my utmost support.”
Dr Elisabeth Carter, senior lecturer in criminology at Bucks New University, and a specialist in forensic linguistics, added: “Scammers use messages of trust, secrecy, urgency and legitimacy in very clever ways in order to reassure and manipulate recipients and target their individual vulnerabilities in personalised ways which make it very difficult for a recipient to maintain ordinary decision-making processes.”
Mr Holden and his colleagues are offering to work with Royal Mail training postmen to identify junk mail signs of scamming.
They are also offering call blocking equipment to victims of follow-up phone calls.