THEY must have thought they'd hit the jackpot.

Instead, hundreds of unsuspecting gamblers hunting an edge to help them beat the bookies have been conned out of tens of thousands of pounds by an unscrupulous Hampshire-based scam.

The scam, which has now been busted by Hampshire trading standards, worked by duping regular gamblers into paying for supposed top tips on horse races or by asking people to join betting syndicates.

The conmen even sent out glossy brochures for their scheme, promising amazing strike rates of up to 88 per cent on tipped bets.

However, the tips almost always proved to be worthless while money sent in for the betting syndicates would vanish never to be seen again with the company itself suddenly unreachable.

Hampshire trading standards has now raided the scam's Winchester headquarters and unearthed more than £26,000 in cash and cheques from punters at the address.

Trading standards believes more than 1,000 people across the UK had been duped by the scam, though much of the £26,000 found during the raid has since been returned to its owners.

As part of the deception, those taking part in the scheme were also asked to place bets with their own money on behalf of the company.

But when the horses did not win as expected, the subscribers found they could not get refunds on their stakes, despite being offered a money-back guarantee.

After receiving dozens of complaints, trading standards moved to prevent mail from reaching the Winchester address the scam was run from and discovered 100 letters full of cash waiting to be opened inside.

Hampshire County Council leader Ken Thornber last night warned residents to be wary of letters inviting them to join betting syndicates or tipster schemes.

He said: "It is shocking how much some people have lost because of these betting schemes and even more shocking how much money these criminals are making from them. These scammers are clever, they target known gamblers knowing they will be tempted by the fantastic offers."

Despite repeated requests for further information, the county council's trading standards department was unable to give us the name of the scam nor exactly how many people had been duped, and neither could it say how much money it thought the scam had netted.

Meanwhile, anyone who receives an offer through the post they think might be suspect should call Consumer Direct for advice on 08454 040506 before handing over any money.

Anyone who thinks they have already become a victim of a con should contact Hampshire police on 0845 045 4545.