Thousands of UK victims of an international mass marketing scam will get compensation from recovered money following a joint investigation with US authorities.
Some £530,000 will be returned to more than 3,500 victims after a four-year investigation that saw National Trading Standards (NTS) helping the American Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identify US-based fraudsters.
The fraudsters targeted UK households with scam mail offering alleged cash wins and claiming “guaranteed” cash prize payouts.
The personalised mailings to UK addresses – estimated to be more than seven million in the four years from 2014 – deliberately targeted vulnerable people, such as older people living alone or those with long-term health conditions.
The mailings asked victims for an upfront fee ranging from £25-40.
NTS said many paid the fee several times before realising there was no prize, with the highest individual losses in the UK running into thousands of pounds.
The NTS investigation identified a criminal “enterprise” based in Kansas as the source of the mailings.
The criminals sent tens of millions of deceptive personalised mailers to individuals around the world in a so-called ‘Next Gen’ sweepstakes scheme.
They ran a classic and vintage car sales operation and held millions of dollars in a variety of bank accounts.
Following the investigation, the criminals agreed to forfeit 30 million dollars (£25.1 million) in cash and assets, of which 25 million dollars (£20.9 million) was made available to compensate victims around the world.
NTS said it had since worked to secure the first compensation scheme across international borders in the UK.
Victims will be issued with a pre-loaded card, which they can spend in shops or pay into their bank accounts.
The cards will be distributed through local trading standards offices.
The victims know who they are as they have been identified during the four-year investigation.
They do not need to do anything and will receive a personalised amount as a proportion of their loss to the scam.
Louise Baxter, head of the NTS Scams Team, said: “Falling victim to a scam can have a huge emotional impact on individuals so I’m delighted that we can use the proceeds of these crimes to provide compensation to thousands of UK victims, with the help of our network of trading standards officers.
“Collaborating across borders with the Federal Trade Commission has proven highly effective.
“We are confident that this approach of obtaining proceeds of crimes from international fraudsters to compensate UK victims could be replicated in the future.”
NTS chairman Lord Michael Bichard said: “Mass marketing mail fraud represents a persistent threat to UK consumers, and particularly to vulnerable and elderly people.
“This investigation and approach to obtaining the proceeds of crime sends a clear message that fraudsters, wherever they are based, can be caught.
“It is testament to the work of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, working alongside local trading standards officers, that money will be returned to so many victims.”
Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said: “The FTC appreciates the support provided in this case by the National Trading Standards Scams Team and our other international partners.
“Their assistance contributed to the success of the FTC’s case and helped ensure that victims worldwide benefit from this refund programme.”
Those who think they have been targeted by a mail scam should report it to their bank and Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.