Some of Suffolk’s most vulnerable residents have been scammed out of thousands of pounds as part of a fraudulent online sweepstake.
The scheme was discovered by the United States Government, with Suffolk Trading Standards helping to compensate victims across the county who lost money.
The Next-Gen sweepstake sent tens of millions of personalised documents to unsuspecting recipients across the world, promising prizes of up to $2million in exchange for a fee between $9 to $140.
Many victims made several payments before realising they had been scammed and it is estimated that consumers collectively lost more than $110million since Next-Gen began its operation in 2013.
Upon discovering the scam, the US Federal Trade Commission worked with international partners, including the UK’s National Trading Standards Scams Team, to enable it to obtain the evidence needed to take Next-Gen to court.
Almost $25million will be returned to victims of the scam, with more than $631,000 (£523,075) paid out via prepaid Mastercard debit cards to those in the UK.
These payments include $10,000 (£8,291) for Suffolk residents who were scammed.
Suffolk Trading Standards has recently hand-delivered refunds ranging from £30 to £1,000.
Graham Crisp, head of Suffolk Trading Standards, said: “In my 30 years with Suffolk Trading Standards, I have never seen a scam of such a large scale.
“The criminals behind this fraud callously preyed on some of society’s most vulnerable people, promising life-changing prizes to tempt their victims into parting with their hard-earned cash.
“I am pleased that justice was sought, enabling us to assist our colleagues from the National Trading Standards Scams Team in distributing refunds to those in Suffolk who have suffered considerable losses.”
Councillor Andrew Reid, cabinet member for public health and public protection at Suffolk County Council, added: “Consumers in over 50 countries were lured in by this sophisticated sweepstake scheme, which included personalised emails to help the competition seem legitimate.
“Many people may think themselves too savvy to fall for scams, but fraudsters are using increasingly clever techniques to make correspondence appear genuine and anyone can be a victim.
“It is important for us all to remain vigilant and not make payments to unknown companies, however attractive the reward on offer may appear to be.
“If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”