Over £1,500 will finally be returned to Buckinghamshire residents after they were targeted by a US-based crime gang as part of an international lottery scam.
In a landmark four-year investigation, the UK’s National Trading Standards Team worked with the United States Federal Trade Commission to identify the Kansas fraudsters who sent scam mail to households offering 'guaranteed' cash prize pay-outs.
The gang deliberately targeted older people living alone or those with long-term health conditions. They enticed victims into paying upfront fees ranging from £25 to £40 in the so-called 'Next Gen' sweepstakes scheme.
Following the investigation, a Federal Judge has ordered that $25 million (£21 million) of forfeited cash and assets be made available to compensate victims around the world.
Trading Standards officers have subsequently contacted 11 Buckinghamshire residents who were affected by the scam, all of whom will have their defrauded money returned.
The amounts being reimbursed to victims in Buckinghamshire vary between £31 and £678, with £1,525 being returned to Buckinghamshire residents in total.
Across the whole of the UK, a total of more than £530,000 will be returned to around three and a half thousand victims, marking a new approach to obtaining proceeds of crime from international fraudsters.
Mark Winn, Cabinet Member for Homelessness and Regulatory Services at Buckinghamshire Council, said:
"This is great news that our Trading Standards officers have been able to return money to people in Buckinghamshire who have fallen victim to this scam. This is a result of National Trading Standards and the Federal Trade Commission working together to investigate this international scam.
"With the current cost of living crisis, our Trading Standards officers are seeing more instances of fraud and scams, so I would remind residents and local businesses to be extra vigilant and always think twice before responding to unsolicited mail, telephone calls, emails or in-person cold callers and if you are at all suspicious, never be afraid to say no, hit delete or put the phone down."
If you think you have been a victim of fraud, you should report it to your bank and Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. For advice, please call the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133.
People can also protect themselves by attending one of their monthly Friends Against Scams webinars.