£1 Million saved from scams

Tuesday 20 March
The loss of over £1 million, that would have been heading its way to scammers and fraudsters, has been prevented by work officers from West Yorkshire Trading Standards has been involved in with vulnerable consumers and victims of scams.

The West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team (WYFEAT) at Trading Standards, a task force part funded by the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, identified West victims in the County after the fraudsters so called “suckers lists” were intercepted. These lists contain names and addresses of vulnerable residents across the country and are used by scammers to systematically target them, predominantly with mass marketing fraud. Over 5,000 West Yorkshire residents are included on the list. Officers have worked on a one to one basis with scam victims to give guidance, care and support. Advice is given to victims on the specific scam mail they have received, how to spot the signs of scams and how to reduce unwanted phone calls and letters, to prevent them falling victim in the future. As a result, many victims have stopped responding to scams and have saved over £1 million.

Each year mass marketing mail scams cause approximately £5 - 10 billion worth of detriment to UK consumers. Scams are operated by criminals with the sole purpose of identifying and exploiting often vulnerable, elderly and mentally impaired people. The average victim is 74 and loses about £1,000 to scams but some have lost their homes, their life savings and many thousands of pounds. Financial loss is not the only cost. Feelings of vulnerability can have an overwhelming impact on many victims. Elderly victims are 2.4 times more likely to die or go into a care home than those who are not scammed.

Examples of the types of scams encountered in West Yorkshire include:
• 70 year old lost £200,000 responding to scam mail for 16 years
• 78 year old lost £150,000 following an internet romance scam
• Vulnerable victim lost over £100,000 life savings over 3 years
• 85 year old lost £20,000 to clairvoyant and prize draw scams

Trading Standards has helped victims install call blockers, to register with the telephone, mail and charity preference services and to forward recent scam mail received as part of a Mail Marshall scheme. Some victims also agreed to have their mail redirected to a trusted relative to prevent the temptation to respond to scam letters, with others becoming Scam Champions and working with the Trading Standards’ SAFER team sharing their experiences with others in community workshops.

In addition to working with victims on a one to one basis, officers have also trained 2300 frontline professionals on spotting and stopping scams and are working with universities on the psychology of scams, researching behaviour changes to develop ideas around prevention and early intervention.

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), who is also a SCAMbassador said: "Scams cause real damage both financially and emotionally so it is with great pride that I have been able to contribute joint sustained funding to help enable the WYFEAT to be created in continuing this pioneering project. They have done some absolutely fantastic work in a relatively short amount of time and demonstrates the positive impact of collaborative working. £1million saved is a very impressive milestone and I would like to thank the whole team for their passion and dedication in tackling fraudsters and helping to keep people and our communities safe.”

Linda Davis, Head of the WYFEAT task force, said, “Many scam victims we meet feel lonely or isolated, and initially they respond to the scam mail for company. This quickly escalates into them being inundated with masses of scam mail repeatedly asking for money, and very often the fraudster then moves on to harassing them by telephone. The team works with victims and potential victims to help them say ‘No’, and often, once they stop responding, over a short period of time, the scam mail stops.’

Councillor Pauline Grahame, of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee which oversees the work of Trading Standards, Said; “We know that being a victim of mass marketing fraud can have a significant impact on health and wellbeing, and the Trading Standards work in empowering people to Spot it and Stop It, and saying NO to scams is making a difference. A million pounds has been prevented from ending up in fraudsters’ hands, money that can now be spent in the local community. Anyone wishing to report scams, fraud or unfair sales tactics sales should contact Citizens Advice Consumer Service Helpline on 03454 04 05 06’.