In a campaign against email and mail lottery scams, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has been operating its own scam lottery. It has sent thousands of fake lottery-winning letters to the public in a bid to stem the £320 million flow into scammers' hands.
The OFT says that 500,000 people a year lose £320 million to people who run fake lotteries. The typical scam involves a person receiving 'notice' that they have won a lottery, with thousands of pounds in cash or with dream holidays as the supposed prizes.
The recipients of the mail are then told that they must pay administration costs, processing fees or even taxes before receiving any money. Once they have done that they never hear from the company again.
In order to alert people to the dangers of such enterprises, the OFT has been sending out leaflets that appear to be from just such a fake lottery.
"The mailing under the false name of 'SuperMegaLotto' promises a £15,000 win, has been personalised to make it appear exclusive to each recipient, and urges the recipient to act quickly to claim their prize by looking inside," said an OFT explanation of the scam.
"The mailing makes clear that it has in fact been sent by the OFT as an educational tool to help consumers spot similar scams," it said. "A genuine prize draw or lottery would never ask you to pay a fee to claim your major prize. Always stop, think and think again if an offer sounds too good to be true."
"'We all dream of winning a big money prize draw or lottery and scammers exploit that to their advantage," said Christine Wade, assistant chief executive of the OFT. "We hope that our innovative approach will help educate consumers about these sophisticated scams."
"The cost of these scams is huge," said Bill Hughes, director general of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. "We are committed to working with partners both in the UK and abroad to tackle this problem, but at the same time it is vital to raise awareness of these scams so that people can help protect themselves."
The OFT said that consumers should be particularly vigilant about emails and letters saying that they have won the Canadian or Spanish lotteries, two that are currently popular ruses with scammers.