One in 10 adults in the UK has been the victim of mass marketing fraud, it was revealed yesterday. More than 3.2 million people have handed over cash after being approached by fraudsters by email, letter or telephone.
The total cost of such cons is more than £3.5bn every year, according to the Office of Fair Trading.
The figures were revealed as the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) announced it has set its sights on the organised criminal gangs behind these frauds in the UK and abroad. Officials said they have seized fake cheques, postal orders and bank drafts exceeding £8m.
Paul Evans, at Soca, said the UK has become a staging post for the illegal trade. He said: "In some of the emails we have intercepted there are appalling examples of vicious exploitation ... and threats of violence."
Mr Evans said many of the bank accounts are also used to defraud the tax credit system, adding that one high street bank returned £750,000 to the Government after acting on information from Soca.
Mass marketing fraud uses mass communication tools to reach large numbers of people cheaply and easily. The most notorious scams centre on an advanced fee, where prizes or money are offered but to access them the victim must pay up front. A large proportion of mass marketing fraud originates in west Africa.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said: "This type of fraud is ... costing UK victims huge sums of money every year ... It will not be tolerated."
Consumers who fear they have been targeted by a fraudster should contact Consumer Direct on 08454 040506.