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LEGAL EAGLE: Don’t be caught out by letters claiming to be from the police

I’ve received a letter purporting to be from the police asking for money in lieu of prosecution; what should I do?

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 12:00 am

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Before I go into detail the best advice anyone can give you is “if in doubt take it to your local police station and ask”.

This might seem simple but it is the safest and best way to see if the police really do wish to speak to you. If you can’t make it to a police station call 101 and describe the letter to the operator, or if you don’t want to speak to police contact a local criminal solicitor.

As scams of all type become more common it is not surprising that this is the latest area that fraudsters have jumped into and these letters, although often obvious to professionals, can cause severe anxiety and distress to the recipients. So here’s some pointers to help you spot a fake letter.

Letters about police investigations will always be from a specific police force, it will have their crest, address, and telephone number on it. They will not come from the Department of Justice or Ministry of Justice.

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They will also have a reference number which can be used to call 101 and obtain information about the case or speak to the relevant officer.

In England and Wales offences which can be dealt with by way of a fixed penalty notice (effectively a small fine) are relatively limited and always minor.

These would usually be for offences such as littering, minor road traffic offences, or COVID-19 regulation breaches.

Most of these are paid through the dedicated GOV.UK Penalty Notice Portal; definitely not by paypal, in bitcoin, or other such online payment methods.

You will never be offered a “fixed penalty notice” or “pay to avoid prosecution” for more serious offences. Often these scams choose offences such as “possession/downloading of indecent images of children” or similar.

This is simply to try and scare or embarrass people away from seeking advice.

No police force will ever offer you a chance to pay a fixed fee to avoid prosecution for these type of offences, you will always be interviewed and taken to court to be prosecuted – not asked to pay a fine.

Remember, if in doubt speak to the police or contact a criminal defence firm such as Ben Hoare Bell LLP.

If you receive any letter inviting you for an interview or if you are arrested then remember to request a free legal aid solicitor to represent you.