We all need to be on our guard against con artists

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It’s always galling to hear of a pensioner being the victim of a scam. But 77-year-old Phyllis Knox is far from alone.

Thousands of people like her find themselves inundated with letters telling them they have won money or prizes, or offering them some once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

When told she was a winner, Mrs Knox would write back and enclose cheques she was told were necessary before she could claim her prizes.

After spending around £1,000 on scams that originated as far afield as Australia and America, she decided enough was enough. She called Trading Standards in Portsmouth and officers helped to get her registered with the Mail Preference Service, which cuts back mail from bogus companies.

Now Mrs Knox says: ‘I would say to other people who get the letters to just ignore them and the best place for them is in the bin.’

She is right, of course. There are a lot of people out there who would seek to con us. They operate on the basis that if they send out enough letters or e-mails, a percentage of those targeted will be tempted to respond.

But we mustn’t let our guard down. Never forget that if a deal sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

We all need reminding that there any number of unscrupulous people out there dreaming up ways of scamming us. So we support Scamnesty, which runs this month and warns about scam mail.

One aspect of scamming that causes particular concern is how the names and addresses of those targeted are obtained.

There are supposed to be rules governing this information. Yet it seems to get sold on and those who send money are put on what are called ‘suckers lists’, suggesting that they may fall for other scams.

Then there’s the question of how, if at all, the law applies to fraudsters operating out of other countries yet targeting people like Mrs Knox in Portsmouth.

It’s something the government needs to look at. But in the meantime, the most effective way of dealing with scam after scam by post or e-mail is simply to throw them away or delete them.