UK victims of international mass marketing scam to be compensated

Thousands of UK victims of an international mass marketing scam will be compensated using money recovered following a joint investigation with US authorities.

Some £530,000 will be returned to more than 3,500 victims after a four-year investigation which saw National Trading Standards (NTS) help the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identify US-based fraudsters.

Fraudsters have targeted UK households with scam mailers offering alleged cash winnings and claiming ‘guaranteed’ cash payouts.

Personalized mailings to UK addresses – estimated at more than seven million in the four years from 2014 – deliberately targeted vulnerable people, such as elderly people living alone or those with long-term health conditions.

The mailings asked victims for an upfront fee ranging from £25 to £40.

NTS said many had paid the charges multiple times before realizing there was no prize, with the highest individual losses in the UK amounting to thousands of pounds.

The NTS investigation identified a Kansas-based criminal “enterprise” as the source of the shipments.

Criminals sent tens of millions of deceptive personalized advertising mailings to people around the world in a so-called “Next Gen” sweepstakes program.

They ran a classic and antique car sales operation and held millions of dollars in various bank accounts.

Following the investigation, the criminals agreed to confiscate $30m (£25.1m) in cash and assets, of which $25m (£20.9m) was put available to compensate victims around the world.

NTS said it has since worked to secure the first compensation scheme across international borders in the UK.

Victims will receive a pre-loaded card, which they can spend in stores or deposit into their bank account.

Cards will be distributed by local trading standards offices.

The victims know who they are because they were identified during the four-year investigation.

They don’t have to do anything and will receive a personalized amount in proportion to their loss due to the scam.

Louise Baxter, NTS Scams Team Manager, said: “Being the victim of a scam can have a huge emotional impact on individuals, so I am delighted that we can use the proceeds of these crimes to compensate thousands of victims. British companies, with the help of our network of trading standards officers.

“The cross-border collaboration with the Federal Trade Commission has proven to be very effective.

“We are confident that this approach of obtaining the proceeds of crime from international fraudsters to compensate UK victims could be replicated in the future.”

NTS Chairman Lord Michael Bichard said: “Mass marketing mail fraud poses a persistent threat to UK consumers, and in particular the vulnerable and elderly.

“This investigation and this approach to obtaining the proceeds of crime sends a clear message that fraudsters, wherever they are based, can be caught.

“It’s a testament to the work of the National Trading Standards Scam Team, who work alongside local Trading Standards Officers, that money will be returned to so many victims.”

Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau, said, “The FTC appreciates the support provided in this case by the National Trading Standards Scam Team and our other international partners.

“Their assistance contributed to the success of the FTC’s case and helped ensure that victims around the world benefited from this reimbursement program.”

Those who believe they have been the target of a mail scam should report it to their bank and to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

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