Sylvia Kneller, 76, of Farnham, Surrey, first started responding to scam mail when she was just 20 years old and says she became “a believer”, convinced she would one day land the ultimate prize.
But now Kneller, whose first husband left her over her refusal to stop responding to the letters, has spoken of the impact on her life in an attempt to warn others who have become addicted to the scams. She said: “All the mail that I have been getting I realised was spam mail, spam letters but it does get you all excited and they shouldn’t do that to old people, it’s not right, not nice at all.
“I have been doing it since I was 20 and I am now 76 and the amount of money, £200,000, is what I have spent out thinking that I was going to win, to get money back but I never got a penny, I can honestly say I have never had one penny from them.
“But in your mind, if you are a believer, you believe it and that’s it and other people start on at you and you know they are right but you still believe, you still want to do it, it becomes like an addiction really.
The letters she received included claims that she had won large sums of money but she needed to send processing fees of £20 for her to claim the prize.
Surrey County Council Trading Standards investigations manager Steve Playle said his team was looking into the cases of 80 people who had repeatedly fallen for the scam He told PA News: “This is the worst case we have come across but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were worst out there that we haven’t come across yet.
“There are a very small proportion of the population who do respond to these spam letters and they are a bit forgotten about. We want to encourage people to speak to their elderly neighbours and friends and if they are receiving these types of mail, to make sure they are not responding to them and to point out they are not going to get any money, they are just lining the pockets of fraudsters.”
Scam mail is estimated to cost UK consumers more than £3.5bn a year, and as far back as 2004, the Office of Fair Trading took legal action against a Dutch holding company called Best BV, which traded as Best Of, Oliveal, and Star Shopping following a cross-border investigation.
The OFT won an injunction against the firm to prevent it from “sending UK consumers misleading mailings” and the court ruled that Best BV would be fined €1m for any subsequent misleading piece. According to the OFT spokesman this court case shut the firm down.
The Metropolitan Police, Royal Mail and the National Fraud Authority recently joined forces to tackle the problem but with many of the companies operating overseas, the issue is proving a tough nut to crack.
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