DOZENS of victims of con artists have joined forces to form a trailblazing team fighting back against postal fraudsters.
Edinburgh’s volunteer “mail marshals” are providing vital intelligence which helps to protect vulnerable people.
The 36-strong squad – around 60 per cent of the UK’s total – is made up of people from across the city who have been plagued by scam letters or have themselves been conned out of cash.
As mail marshals, they hand over hundreds of letters every month to trading standards officials, who are then tasked with bringing the scam artists to justice and warning other potential victims of their traps.
Victims have been reeled in by official-looking documents promising cash windfalls such as lottery wins or personalised messages from so-called psychics or clairvoyants, offering life-changing predictions in return for a payment, and health products that just don’t live up to their promises.
Bosses at National Trading Standards have now held up the Edinburgh team as an example of how best to deal with the growing trend.
Mail marshals such as great-gran Lynda Simpson, from Broomhall, collect letters they receive and pass them on to local trading standards, who then work with the national unit to crack down on the scams.
The big-hearted 66-year-old gave away £40 after she received a scam sob story, but is now keen to prevent others from falling victim.
She said: “I sent money because the person who had written the letter sounded so nice and kind. More and more letters then started to arrive, but alarm bells started ringing when I noticed that they were all asking for the same amount, and were all from the Netherlands.
“I used to get about ten a day, and that’s down to about one a day since signing up. I’m not stupid but they conned me.
“It’s happening to people who are more vulnerable than me who don’t have anyone, and that’s really horrible.”
Since it was established at the end of last year, the Capital volunteer squad has collected between 300 and 500 scam letters every month.
Once someone has responded, their details are shared, resulting in them being bombarded with huge amounts of mail.
It is extremely difficult to prosecute the perpetrators, particularly as many are based abroad. But the mail marshals have found that once they stop replying, the letters gradually stop arriving.
Councillor Cammy Day, the city’s community safety leader, said: “It’s a heartless but very lucrative operation, taking advantage of people’s good nature and conning them out of their hard-earned money. These scams can be very clever in their presentation, and can take a variety of forms.
“People should never feel embarrassed that it’s happened to them, but be assured that it can happen to anyone, of any age or circumstance.
“Mail marshals are hugely valuable in helping to stop this, so please get in touch with us if you’re worried about it happening to yourself or someone you know, and think you may be able to assist.”
Louise Baxter, National Trading Standards scam team manager, said: “The project engages scam victims and gathers valuable intelligence.
“More importantly, it provides an alternative support mechanism for victims whilst providing them with choices and the autonomy to manage their own affairs. This leads to consumer empowerment, which is our ultimate aim.”