The scourge of cruel scammers
Unscrupulous companies are targeting the most vulnerable people in Bucks with mail scams. Pushy salesmen are calling people with the promise of a great offer and victims, many of whom are suffering from dementia and penniless, are parting with money they
MOST people throw junk mail in the bin. But for hundreds of Buckinghamshire’s lonely and vulnerable people, it is the only post they get.
And, say the county council’s trading standards team, this is when the risk of falling prey to mail scammers is high.
In the past two years they have received almost 100 reports of Buckinghamshire victims who have fallen prey to the junk mail scammers. Their total loss was nearly £150,000.
In the approach to Christmas the team have intensified their investigations and senior trading standards officer Chris Holden said there could be many more victims across the county who have not reported their losses.
Nationally, only one in 20 scams is reported, said Mr Holden. “The number of victims in the county could well be in the thousands, and we could be talking about losses of
SCANNING FOR SCAM: Barry Atkins with Trading Standards community champion Tina Stewart and the latest batch of junk mail millions of pounds,” he said. “We want the warning to go out loud and clear to encourage more people to let us know.”
Typical scams that crop up in junk mail include
It’s all very distressing
lottery ‘wins’ and prize draws that promise big wins if the victim sends back money, and catalogues offering over-priced goods that entice responses with the promise of a cash prize.
Trading standards officers have already uncovered an address in rural Buckinghamshire acting as a reply centre for people responding to a prize draw scam with £5 ‘administration fee’ cheques.
On one day they seized 98 responses and £490, which will be returned to senders.
Chris and his colleagues are liaising with the county council’s adult social care team and other agencies to work through around 250 Buckinghamshire addresses on a national Scams Hub List. They will be making contact to warn potential victims about the risks of responding to these scams and, with sensitivity, help wean them off or at least mitigate their potential losses.
The list, containing more than 100,000 names of vulnerable and susceptible people across the UK, was seized in 2012 by police investigating national mail scams.
Chris said: “Mail scams target older, lonely and more vulnerable people, and particularly susceptible are people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. Frequently scammers will follow up their mail with a persuasive phone call, which can be very intimidating.”
Cabinet member for community engagement Martin Phillips said: “This pernicious crime is often perpetrated by criminals at arm’s length abroad. It’s a scourge on our community and the work our Trading Standards team is doing to help residents has my utmost support.”
Senior lecturer in criminology at Bucks New University, Dr Elisabeth Carter, said: “Scammers use messages of trust, secrecy, urgency and legitimacy in very clever ways in order to reassure and manipulate recipients and target their individual vulnerabilities in personalised ways which make it very difficult for a recipient to maintain ordinary decision-making processes.”
In their campaign against the scammers Chris and his colleagues will be offering to work with Royal Mail training postmen to identify junk mail signs of scamming.
They are also offering call blocking equipment to victims of follow-up phone calls.
And they are appealing to residents who already watch out for their vulnerable neighbours to keep an eye on the levels of mail delivered. Some of the typical signs of victimisation are:
Almost always elderly, often over the age of 80
Often lonely, socially isolated and recent bereavement can be a trigger
Unusually high quantities of mail
Secretive about their mail and finances Living in clutter Hiding mail around the house
Denying there is a problem with scams despite evidence to the contrary
In possession of cheap looking goods, products including, health products and toiletries, trinkets, charms and foodstuffs
Reluctance to involve family members in their situation
Getting through cheque books unusually quickly
Regularly visiting the post office and/or keeping lots of stamps.
For further advice, contact the Trading Standards helpline is 03454 040506.