How to combat parcel and postal scams

Chris Torney / 24 December 2015 ( 10 March 2020 )

Hints and tips to help you spot parcel delivery scams and postal scams that could leave you open to identity theft.



First, an example. Back in 2016 there were newspaper reports that a company calling itself Parcel Delivery Service had been posting cards through householders’ doors, saying drivers had attempted to deliver a package.

A premium-rate phone number was given in order to arrange re-delivery – but anyone who rang this number was apparently charged in excess of £300 simply for connecting the call.

What actually happened?

This scam ran for around ten years before the reports came to light. But according to Action Fraud, the police-run anti-fraud organisation, the phone number in question had actually been shut down by regulators way back in December 2005.

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Action Fraud said that emails and notices on social media relating to this scam nonetheless continued to circulate. But the watchdog urged that anyone who received such a warning should disregard it and not forward it to friends or relatives.

What to do if you’re concerned about such scams?

According to phone regulator Phone-paid Services Authority, anyone who receives a delivery card that they suspect may not be genuine, and which gives a premium-rate number to call, should get in touch on 0300 30 300 20, which is available Monday to Friday between 9.30am and 12.30pm.

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Be sceptical of chain emails

Emails that warn of potential fraud and which ask recipients to forward them on to friends are very common and often not genuine. Equally, as is the case with the Parcel Delivery Service hoax, they may relate to issues that have long since been addressed by the authorities.

If you receive a warning like this, think twice before sending it on. First off, carry out a web search to see whether it’s likely to be genuine or not.

For example, in a search for “Parcel Delivery Service warning” the Action Fraud website states that this scam is no longer running.

How to spot a scam email

In particular, be very careful opening any attachments or clicking links contained in such emails.

Could you be the subject of a postal-based identity theft scam?

Most incorrectly delivered or addressed post comes about as the result of an innocent mistake. But receiving letters at home that aren’t for you could be the first sign you’re the subject of an identity theft scam.

So what should you be looking out for, and what can you do to minimise the chances of falling prey to such a crime?

Can I open a letter that isn’t addressed to me?

Yes, under some circumstances the law in England and Wales does allow you to open a letter that isn’t addressed to you. The Postal Services Act 2000 states that:

* A person commits an offence if, intending to act to a person’s detriment and without reasonable excuse, he opens a postal packet which he knows or reasonably suspects has been incorrectly delivered to him.

So, as long as you have a reasonable excuse for opening the letter or parcel, and don’t do it with the specific intention of doing so to cause detriment to the person to whom it has been addressed, you should be OK.

But that doesn’t mean that you should open it, if for no other reason that you could face a prison sentence if the courts were to think that you’ve committed an offence.

The best course of action is to mark it clearly with “Not known at this address, please return to sender” on the front and pop it back into the postal system. Royal Mail will then return it to the sender – opening the envelope to establish the sender’s address if necessary.

Can I keep goods delivered to me by mistake?

What if it is from a bank, credit card company or a debt collection agency?

The best advice is still to return it to the sender. If someone is using your address to run a financial scam, then the bank, for example, will probably follow the matter up with you. If they didn’t, then a scammer could simply carry on with impunity.

In the light of this, the bank, credit card company, or debt collection agency might send someone to your home to check you are who you say you are.

If in doubt, ask to see some identification and consider phoning their office to double-check that they are who they say they are.

Once you’re happy with their credentials, they might ask to see some form of ID. Comply with this, as it’s a small price to pay to nip the matter in the bud and stop the flow of letters.

Will my credit rating be affected if an identity scammer is using my address?

No it won’t, as long as you have never been financially linked with that person (by taking out a joint loan or credit card, for example). It might be worrying, but your credit rating is a much more sophisticated process than it used to be, and is based on a person rather than an address.

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Can I check to see if someone else’s scam has affected my credit rating?

If you’re still worried, then you can check your credit rating record by contacting either Experian and/or Equifax, who will provide a copy of your file.

If there is anything on there that is inaccurate - or just plain wrong - they are legally obliged to correct it. You can also place a Notice of Correction on there, which is a short explanation that will help clarify something you feel is misleading, even if it is accurate.

You should contact the police if you think someone has used your address to commit fraud or another crime.

But please don’t worry unnecessarily. Most incorrectly delivered or addressed post is the result of someone simply making a mistake. The chances of you falling victim to a fraud of one kind or another are very slim indeed.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.