While direct marketers battle to ensure they are not targeting vulnerable consumers, there are growing fears that so-called “suckers lists” threaten to bring down the whole sector following claims of an alarming increase in the number of people appearing on them.
According to new National Trading Standards figures, 240,000 people are now on suckers lists – a sharp rise from 200,000 in July – with an average age of 74 years old.
The phrase was coined by the Office of Fair Trading in 2005, when it was trying to raise awareness of scamming techniques.
Back in July, fraud investigators seized 13 different lists, containing the personal details of almost 200,000 people after they had been used by scam artists to bombard the elderly with bogus direct mail, inviting them to take part in fake prize draws, competitions and special offers.
At the time, Trading Standards said 10,843 people on the database were known to have handed over money on false premises. On average they had lost £1,184 each, and nearly £13m in total. Some were sending money to cover the costs of claiming a prize for a competition they had not entered.
However, the latest figures show that the problem is unlikely to go away any time soon, with one estimate claiming fake competitions and lotteries cost UK consumers over £3.5bn a year.
According to Marilyn Baldwin, who founded the “Think Jessica” campaign in memory of her mother who was a victim of multiple scams, the market has exploded in recent years and now costs UK consumers more than £10bn.
Royal Mail said it had cancelled nine contracts over the past two years with firms it found to be issuing fraudulent mail. The Advertising Standards Authority has also launched a campaign to raise awareness of the issue.
It said: “While there is a legitimate market for promotional mailings, there are some companies who do not treat consumers fairly. Instead they use misleading tactics to make illegitimate profit.”
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