Tom Heap investigates whether Royal Mail would be able to survive without junk mail, and asks what the postal service has to do with the dark side of letters - scam mail.
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It invades our homes. Tons of it cascading on to our doormats.
mail is becoming a plague. And it costs the taxpayer a fortune to be
rid of it. �700,000 just to get junk mail into landfill. It is
incredible. You might hate junk mail but would our postal service
survive without it? There is absolutely no question that
advertising mail is central to the financial viability of the Royal
Mail. And just how addicted is Royal Mail to the darker side of
The Royal Mail are delivering in effect coachloads of criminals to
the Houses of elderly and There is no place to hide. It
doesn't care where you live at... It will fine you. -- to fine you.
And when it does, is there anything Junk mail. Not a 1950s B-movie
fantasy but a reality of living in the modern world. It seems that
there is absolutely no where in the UK you can escape. Even a place
like this, Fair Isle. It is the most remote inhabited island in the
UK, sitting 25 miles from Shetland and getting just one boat a week in
the winter. It is a pretty tricky place to get to but junk mail
Charities, insurance, another charity One, somebody asking me to
buy beds, Co-op, we don't have one on Fair Isle, another one on
insurance, Specsavers, Co-op again and the royal wedding coin offer.
For Fair Isle's post mistress, junk mail has become almost as common a
sight as the island's seabirds. are not immune from junk mail.
There is one advantage to living here though if you are trying to
avoid some junk mail. There are absolutely no fast food outlet on
Fair Isle so they won't be plagued by all those takeaway leaflets.
That doesn't seem quite fair on the rest of us in the UK though so why
have brought some kebab shop and curry house leaflets just so they
It seems a bit ridiculous, doesn't it? It is a bit of a waste and I
put it straight in the bin, along with all my other rubbish that will
go back out on the boat that all of this came in on. Unfortunately,
most of us don't have the luxury of sending our junk mail out over the
horizon. A lot of it simply ends up In Cornwall, they reckon around
4,000 tonnes of junk mail like this ends up in landfill every year.
That is enough to feel about 500 of those dustcarts. -- to fill up
about 500. That 4,000 tons represents about 3% of the overall
waste Cornwall thumbs into landfill and burial doesn't come cheap.
is quite incredible how much it costs. For that fraction, you are
looking at getting on for �700,000 a year. Just to get junk mail into
landfill? Yeah, it is quite incredible. And who is paying that
bill? The Cornish resident is paying the bills. Could the Cornish
cut that cost by making an effort to put that 4,000 tonnes of junk
mail into the recycling bin instead? It would be nice if it was
free, unfortunately it is not. You are looking at �119 per tonne to
recycle. But that is still close to half-a-million quid, so although it
is cheaper it is not a lot cheaper than putting it into landfill?
Unfortunately yes. Much better environmentally, no question about
that, but there is still a cost. This is a month's worth, three
weeks' worth, and this is how much comes through my letterbox.
Cornwall councillor Andrew Wallis believes junk mail has become a
plague. I get everything from utility companies, charities,
supermarkets, you name it, I generally have it. This is almost a
criminal waste of our money. Government is cutting Cornwall
Council's budget by �53 million this year. And the last thing
Andrew wants is to see the county's remaining cash ebbing away to pay
for the disposal of junk mail. we could save some of this money
from not having to deal with junk mail, this money could be used
elsewhere for the benefit of Cornwall. Makes you wonder how much
the whole country could save. a-million in Cornwall. Times that
by all the authorities in the UK. You are talking millions, absolute
millions. So we didn't ask for this and yet we had to pay a fortune to
be rid of it. Shouldn't be companies sending it help to pay
the bill? This organisations represents many of them. Either way,
they don't call it junk mail here. I don't think we should bear any
additional cost at this point in time. But why should the taxpayers
in Cornwall and anywhere else pave the dispose -- to dispose of what
they didn't even ask for? We are a very small part of the use of
landfill. We don't think it is a burden. We think the overall value
to consumers and the economy far outweighs that cost. People want
things from you? Absolutely, they do want it. But is there a way of
turning an expensive problem into a valuable asset? Remember Fair
Isle's junk mail? It eventually ends up being delivered here, in
Where it actually does some good, along with a lot of other rubbish.
It is burned to keep Shetlanders warm. At Lerwick, the capital, they
have got what is called an energy recovery plant. That is the last of
As the council, we encourage waste prevention and junk mail is always
going to be there so the key thing is that when it does end up in the
waste bin, we at least deal with it properly and recovery -- recover
the energy for. Junk mail plays its part here in providing heating and
hot water for homes, businesses, a couple of schools and even a
swimming pool. A little bit of good comes from that people, if you
like? Absolutely. It is far better for the environment than sending it
to landfill. 1.7 billion pieces of junk mail are delivered by Royal
Mail last year. So why shouldn't I follow the Shetlanders' example and
My family home is heated by two hungry would burners and feeding
them is hard graft. Many is the weekend I have spent toiling away
in a nearby forest cutting down dead trees to burn. That should
keep me warm for a week or so! But instead of spending time and
effort gathering wood for the fire why don't I just put my feet up and
let Royal Mail do the work? Delivering fuel in the form of junk
mail. It didn't take long, just an hour
ordering up extra junk, for it to come in thick and fast.
Double glazing, insurance, windows again, animals, Damart, don't
remember signing up for that, As a nation though, it appears we
The Direct Marketing Association in Advertising mail has a very large
value to the UK economy. Close to �16 billion be in terms of goods
and services bought and sold through direct marketing. What you
are saying is that if we didn't have junk mail, there would be a
�16 billion hole in the UK economy? Absolutely right and that is why we
prefer to think of it as targeted direct marketing as opposed to junk
mail. I don't really like the phrase job because junk is
untargeted, unuseful, unvaluable and if it was... That is how it
feels to me. It feels exactly those things, and unwanted. More than 50%
of the UK have bought from a piece of direct mail in the last year.
There were loads today. So much it has gone everywhere.
I won't be ordering anything from my junk mail though. I just want to
burn it. But you do need a bit of specialist kit to turn all of that
post into logs. This is a briquette maker. You tear it up into strips.
Put it into something like this, add water. You end up with a load
of porridgy gloop. Give it a good push. Lots of pressure. Pour out
the excess. And there you have it. While many of us made love to hate
junk mail, Royal Mail must positively adore it. There is
absolutely no question that advertising mail, which the critics
describe as junk mail, is central to the financial viability of the
Royal Mail in the 21st century. Richard Hooper should know. The
author of a government report into Royal Mail's future, he made plain
that out of a poached -- total postal market of �11.4 billion,
junk mail was worth 1.7 billion. If you take letters alone, it appears
Royal Mail really counts on it. were looking at a figure of
something like �5.4 billion for the total letters market, off which 1.3,
so nearly a quarter, is advertising mail, so that shows you how
important advertising mail is to the future of the Royal Mail and to
the future of postal services. does that mean we need junk mail to
be able to send our Christmas cards anywhere in the UK for the cost of
a stamp? The supreme irony is that without the junk mail, without the
advertising mail as I would call it, he would not have the Universal
Postal Service. -- you would not have. We contacted the Royal Mail,
outlining Richard Hooper's position. It made no comment but said instead
it did not recognise the term junk mail, adding many households find
direct mail useful, and if they don't, many schemes exist or
stopping it, including its own. So on the face of it, it seems the
best way of ensuring the survival of our beloved postal system is to
sign up for as much junk as you possibly can. But beware. Imagine
if you're keen among the junk catalogues and leaflets were
letters so toxic they could completely ruin your life? And
imagine if Royal Mail was making Scam mail. Just like junk mail,
delivered by Royal Mail. Letters from foreign con-artists invading
our homes and our bank accounts, taking �2.4 billion in here at last
For years, scam mail has flooded into the UK, snaring victims and
I could hardly open the door because there was the tsunami of
letters. They were literally everywhere in the House and there
were hundreds of them. We had a clear-out and we ordered a five-ton
skip. There are fake lotteries, dodgy catalogues, criminal
clairvoyant! Promising big cash prizes and guaranteed good luck --
clairvoyants. The problem is, to claim your winnings you just need
to send off if small sum, �20, �30, but that fat cheque to save your
life never arrives. My mother was spending between �2,000 and �4,000
a month. His whole pension money was going every week. Over 12 years,
at least half a million pounds went off to criminal scammers. And this
can be the result of that obsession. There are 120 chequebooks fear from
just one victim. And over four years, she spent �40,000 on scams.
After replying to the first tempter better, are victims' names are put
on a sucker list. These are often sold to other criminals around the
world. Which is exactly what happened to Paul's husband. Africa,
Australia, Germany, France, you name it. They were coming from all
over the world. How many letters 20-30 a day.
Ray hoped to win enough money to pay for a golden wedding
anniversary trip to Canada. Instead, hooked on scam mail, he lost their
�5,000 life savings and almost his marriage. Biggest mistake of my
life. I didn't think I could be that gullible.
I reject what I've done. -- I regret what I've done. I feel
sorry, foolish, annoyed and angry that I could have let myself be
fooled by these people that send these letters out.
Like Ray, 76-year-old Pamela was addicted to scam mail, losing
thousands of pounds. She has come to Exeter University to find out
why. I do want to say very strongly that it is not only the elderly.
Actually, the biggest friend of the scamer is complacency. The feeling
that "I couldn't feel victim to something like this!" actually, you
could, who ever you are. Hello, come in. Professor Stephen
Lea has done a landmark study into the psychology of victims. It did
become an addiction. Perhaps next time I'll win it, the next letter.
Not the next month, the next letter. It is called the gamblers fallacy.
Actually of course there are a range of techniques that scamers
use, making something look like an official communication, feel like,
I have to open this. Others are going for the gut really. We call
them influences, putting a huge sum of money at the top of a letter.
The misery caused by some of these scams is really unbelievable.
you think you have won on this one? I know I've won it. How sure are
you? 100%. 100%. This film shows theor meant of Jessica Looke, in
the grip of scam mail addiction. Her daughter, who tried everything
to stop her, is behind the camera. Are they being stupid? I don't
think so. When your mental health When I got to the hospital, about
three hours before my mother died, she didn't speak much because she
was too poorly, but she did say to me, "marry lin, has the post been -
- Marilyn, has the post been?" did you think?
I don't know. After jes ka had died, Marilyn
cleared around 30,000 scam letters out of her home. The cruel legacy
of another wise happy life. It was literally every where. The shed was
full. Under the bed - it was in the corn
flake box, in every drawer, every cupboard. It was every where.
is some of the scam mail removed.... The experience drove her to set up
Think Jessica, to help other families. We can get up to 26,000
visitors a month. If these people were getting mugged on the street,
there would be an outcry. Because it is happening via the post and
going on behind closed doors, nothing is being done. These people
are not getting any help. For years, criminals have acted with impunity,
outside UK borders. Largely free to inject their fraud into our postal
system. International boundaries have no
meaning for these people. They are serious, organised criminal
networks, at the top echelons there will not be many of them. They will
operate from all over the world. The City of London Police is trying
to get to grips with the scamers. The lead force for the
investigation of economic crime in the UK, their officers are busy
gathering evidence. Will the countries of the scamers helped?
There'll be different levels of co- operation in some areas of the
world. Some countries we get cracking co-operation. Some
countries it is much more difficult. I can assure people that we will be
doing something. The question is, would something be
achieved by looking closer to home? A lot closer?
Like here at the Royal Mail's headquarters in central London?
Or here, an anonymous industrial estate in Southall, London. This is
the home to a UK hub of a firm called Spring Global Mail. Royal
Mail owned one-third of the company, which acts as their overseas agent.
It is believed to earn Royal Mail millions. It declined to say how
many. Spring Global has centres in 15
countries. It enters into mail contracts with companys from around
the world. If you are an Australian firm 579ing to get a catalogue de--
wanting to get a catalogue delivered, speak to Spring. They
are a vehicle for scamers and it has been going on for years. How
does Spring Global Mail, part owned by Royal Mail allow scam mail to
even enter the UK? Unfortunately it is easy to get scam mail into the
UK. The fraudsters use all the legitimate canals. Used by scamers
who want to market the UK. They use that cover to actually manipulate
and target people in the UK. Surely Spring Global Mail checks
what it sends to us? Mike Haley thinks it should do more.
simple thing they can do is to ask for copies of the mail shots that
are going to be distributed upfront, so they can look at them, check
them and see whether they are fraud lent mail. Spring Global has said
it has no powers to act as a sensor and it is not possible to identify
scam mail, even when sent in transparent wrapping. Here is an
example sent via Spring Global to the UK.
One hired monkey could see this is scam. It says here "you are
definitely going to be depositing �25,500, in your personal account.
Congratulations!" Once in the system it is too late. Our current
postal laws mean Royal Mail then have an obligation to deliver it
and to all intents and purposes it looks above board, especially as
many take advantage of a service provided by Spring Global and part
owners Royal Mail. They offer the local look, which means letters
like this from foreign fraudsters can THE COMMENTATOR: Complete with
the trusted Royal Mail logo and be delivered looking like they come
from Britain. My mother used to say, it isn't a
scam, it is genuine, this is the Queen's mail. She could not be
delivering it is if was a scam. Scamers use a post mark because it
creates trust and security. A lot of elderly people will see that and
think there must have been some checks already in place, so this
mail is trusted mail. Spring Global told us it is a
marketing activity and the vast majority of companies using it are
legitimate. What proportion of Spring Globals is made up by scam?
Only they can tell how much is fraud lent. It could be 30-40% of
their business. Spring Global Mail did not comment on these figures.
We asked Royal Mail and Spring Global for an interview. They
declined. Instead supplying us with Royal Mail and Spring Global Mail
point to an operation with the Metropolitan Police in January,
which removed six million scam letters from the UK.
Both say they are committed to working with other UK agencies to
stamp out the problem and that the Met operation and other
investigations has led to the cancellation of 17 overseas bulk
mail contracts this year. They added that what they have been
doing should remove an estimated 16 million scam mailings per year,
which Spring say represent 3% of the company's revenue. What I want
to know is, why didn't they do that years ago? Why has it dawned on
them that they can cancel these contracts? They need to ratchet up
their response, recognising the human misery that comes about by
the delivery of this fraudulent mail. Any serious business will
want to protect its customers. For just making a quick buck off some
fraudsters they should balance that against the fact that they have a
big custom base they need to protect. I blame Royal Mail for
these mailings reaching my father. At the end of the day, they know
what they are delivering. They don't realise the impact it's
having on people's lives. I think it's all about revenue and money.
With so many loopholes being exploited by scamers, is it time
for tougher legislation? MP Caroline Nokes is so appalled she
is pushing forward a private memberers' bill. We -- private
memberer's bill. We need to intercept it at the point of entry.
She wants postmen and women to deliver change, empowering them to
identify victims. One big problem at the moment is a victim has to
identify themselves as a victim. In many cases they don't. They believe
this scam mail is genuine. Sadly, without Government backing or
massive public pressure Caroline's bill stands little chance of
becoming law. We are left to hope postal companies do more to keep
scam mail off our door mat. As I have travelled around the
country, speaking to victims of scam mail and their families I have
It invades our homes, dropping onto our doormats in its millions and costs the taxpayer a fortune to get rid of. It might be a menace in our mailbox but without junk mail, would our postal service survive? Panorama reporter Tom Heap asks whether junk mail is only good for one thing, burning it to heat his home, and investigates whether Royal Mail is addicted to the darker side of the letters business - scam mail.