Last week was safeguarding week across West Yorkshire. Here at West Yorkshire Trading Standards, we endeavour to protect and support consumers in a number of ways in order to safeguard those who are most vulnerable in our communities. Much of the work we undertake is to protect consumers against financial exploitation and abuse, whether that be from rogue traders, or family, friends or carers.
The West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team (WYFEAT) at Trading Standards is a specialist multi-agency task force made up of Criminal Investigators, Financial investigators, Social workers and a Police Officer. The purpose of the team is to safeguard vulnerable adults in our communities from financial exploitation and abuse. The team undertakes complex criminal investigations into financial exploitation and abuse as well as providing advice and support for professionals and victims. WYFEAT receives referrals from a wide range of partners including, Citizen’s Advice, West Yorkshire police, adult social care teams, NHS staff, banks and housing authorities.
In just over a year, WYFEAT has dealt with over 600 referrals from partner agencies relating to allegations of financial abuse of vulnerable residents, involving over £7 Million of alleged fraud. During this time, WYFEAT intervention has prevented a further £3 Million from being lost to financial exploitation, money that may otherwise be in the hands of criminals. A number of criminal investigations are currently ongoing, and custodial sentences for criminals prosecuted where vulnerable victims were involved has now reached over 40 years.
This includes the recent 30 years prison sentences given to home security fraudsters who targeted elderly and vulnerable consumers. Bespoke Home Security Ltd ostensibly sold security and home improvement products and traded from premises in Cleckheaton. Victims of the fraud were initially cold-called and told of rising crime rates and were scared into thinking there was a need for them to install security products. Sales staff would stay in the victim’s home for several hours and use high-pressure selling tactics to encourage them to take out a contract there and then for work that was often over-priced or unnecessary. In several cases the victims believed they were receiving a government grant towards the price of the works but the grant did not exist and was merely a tactic used to encourage sales. In some cases the defendants would take the victim to the bank to secure deposits. Later the business expanded to offer home improvements.
Trading Standards as a service, aims to have a holistic approach to safeguarding. This is achieved by not just providing advice to people about how they can spot and protect themselves against fraudsters, but also by identifying other needs that they may have. This may include referrals to other agencies such as adult social care, Victim Support, organisations that help to tackle social isolation, local interest groups and other adult services who are able to assist with care and support needs.
WYFEAT is able to offer practical solutions that can help protect consumers at risk of financial exploitation and abuse. Simple, yet effective tools such as call blockers are available to residents who may be experiencing high volumes of nuisance calls. Trading standards staff can also offer practical support such as scams and frauds advice, cancelling direct debits, signing up to the telephone preference service and opting out of the open register.
If you have concerns regarding financial exploitation and abuse, you should first report these concerns to your local authority. WYFEAT works in partnership with all 5 local authorities in the County If you would like to report fraud, this is recorded by Action Fraud and reporting can be made over the phone on 0300 123 2040 or online at https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/
WYFEAT can also offer advice to professionals in relation to financial exploitation and abuse. To make a formal referral into the WYFEAT team, professionals should email WYFEATreferrals@wyjs.org.uk and ask for our referral form.