POLICE are cracking down on heartless mail scammers who trick vulnerable Scots out of an estimated £3.5m every year.
Victims of the con artists are bombarded with up to 70 letters a day enticing them to send money.
The cruel tricks range from requesting £25 for a clairvoyant’s advice to demanding £25,000 for a bogus £1m prize.
Worst of all, say police, the vast majority of victims are so embarrassed by being caught out they rarely report the crime to police.
But officers say scam mail is just as serious as blackmail and have vowed to tackle the criminals responsible head on.
The campaign, called Think Jessica, is named after a particularly tragic victim of the scam mail.
Jessica Looke, 83, died four years ago after handing over £50,000 to foreign criminals operating an investment scam.
Her daughter, Marilyn Baldwin, 57, said: “I have no doubt that the scammers contributed to her death.”
Mrs Baldwin, from Derbyshire, travelled to Glasgow to help publicise the launch of the campaign.
“My mother believed that the money she was continually sending was an investment that would make her secure in her final years,” she said.
“She was controlled by these criminals to such an extent that she would willingly live on tea and toast to be sure she had money to pay the demands on the next promised win.”
The campaign is being backed by the Scottish Financial Crime Group and the Scottish Business Crime Centre- a non-profit organisation which advises police, banks and financial groups on crime prevention.
Tayside Assistant Chief Constable Angela Wilson, head of the Scottish Financial Crime Group, said the scammers mask themselves as everything from clairvoyants to solicitors and bankers.
She said: “They’ll pose as a solicitor looking for fees or as clairvoyants claiming they can send good luck for £25.
“They’re sending letters to vulnerable people claiming they’ve won prizes. The letters will say that they have won a prize but they must send in a cash sum in order to receive it, or pay a tax on the prize.
“They’re sending out hundreds of letters from abroad and when the victims send the money via bank transfer, the criminals are untraceable.”
“I would say 90% of these letters are coming from abroad. There are criminal gangs all over the world. Many of them come from Nigeria and Europe.”
“The criminals can buy a mailing list for certain age groups. If one person replies, the criminals then sell on their address to other criminal gangs and that’s how some people are getting 70 letters per day.”
She added: “The fraudsters who are perpetuating these scams against the vulnerable and the elderly have no thought for the trauma and upset they are causing.
“They have no qualms about the lengths that they will go to further their own desire for easy money. Their behaviour towards the most vulnerable in our society sickens and angers me.”
ACC Wilson said they were receiving too few reports of mail scams.
“We know there are more victims out there and we are urging them to come forward before it’s too late and they have shelled out large sums of money.
She asked neighbours and relatives of elderly people to look out for large volumes of mail coming though the post over the Christmas period.
“Take notice if they are suddenly receiving large volumes of letters or mail. Does their letterbox seem to be receiving a lot of mail where they didn’t before?
“Also if you do have an elderly member of your family, tell them to look out for these scams – and if you are in any doubt, do not hesitate to contact your local police station,” she added.
Mandy Haeburn Little, Executive Director of Scottish Business Crime Centre said: “The campaign is about awareness immediately before the festive season when people are vulnerable but also the police throughout next year will be increasing activity in tackling scams.
The launch comes just after a report was published by the Citizens Advice Scotland last month which revealed that almost half of Scots have been targeted by scam mail.
But the report also revealed that only 5% of scams were reported by the victims.
The report, Crime of Persuasion – Scams and their Victims, was compiled from August to November with CAS surveying 600 Scottish clients about the issue.