CRIMINALS worldwide are sending letters and making phone calls which trick millions of people into parting with billions of pounds every year.
This is the stark message from a charity set up by the daughter of one woman who became a victim of what is now becoming recognised as an endemic problem which causes financial and mental devastation to millions of silent victims of fraud.
According to Marilyn Baldwin, 59, from Derbyshire, her mother Jessica Looke, 83, died from stress in 2007 after being bombarded with 30,000 scam letters begging her for money over a five-year period.
Between 2002 and 2007, Mrs Looke’s home became overrun with stacks of letters and she started to go without food to pay off the scammer’s demands.
After her death, her daughter discovered that the pensioner had been targeted by bogus clairvoyants and officials she believed were her friends and who had cheated her out of a total of £50,000, made up of her pension and loans that she took out.
Since then Mrs Baldwin has worked to raise awareness of such scams as well as calling to have the brainwashing victims' experience, which she calls Jessica Scam Syndrome, recognised as a legitimate mental health condition.
One company supporting Think Jessica’s campaign is Cheshire-based Home Instead Senior Care which operates a national network of locally owned and operated offices including branches in Chester, Wrexham and Flintshire.
Home Instead Senior Care offers care for older people in the comfort of their own homes and for husband and wife team Chris and Sue Broadbent, who purchased the Chester office of Home Instead Senior Care in 2007, the growing problem of scamming is one they are fighting head on.
“When you look after older people like Sue and I have for 10 years they are clients but you get very protective of them,” says Chris. “A lot of them are on their own and have no one to protect them so I think it's only right that we educate people who can provide that protection.
“As our care is very much based around building friendships, our caregivers are close to our clients which means they can spot anything suspicious and be their ‘eyes and ears’ to scams like these.”
Both Chris and Sue have been traveling across the region delivering talks on how to avoid scams and promoting the work of Think Jessica with the experienced pair keen to continue spreading the message to as many groups as they can.
“I thought this was a great idea and a great way of getting the message across to our community,” says Chris, after speaking to a group from the Stroke Association at United Reform Church in Upton, near Chester.
“We look after about 130 people who are mostly over 65 and we offer three types of care – companionship, home help and personal care. It's all about trying to give people independence in their own home which is what the vast majority of people want.
“Today we spoke to the Stroke Association – but other groups we’ve met include social workers and community matrons and in total we’ve met about 20 groups across Ellesmere Port and Chester so far.”
In the UK, scam marketing, which includes the use of the internet, phones and post, makes up the largest proportion of fraud.
Between 2012 and 2013, one million or two per cent of UK adults sent money in reply to unsolicited communications and just under one-half – almost 500,000 people – are believed to have been defrauded as a result, costing UK individuals an estimated £3.5 billion in total
Matthew Murray James, who operates the Wrexham and Flintshire East franchise of Home Instead Senior Care, is also helping to spread the word and along with Chris he is keen to highlight the types of scam which are affecting the people in his care.
“Two of the most common scams are lottery and prize draw scams,” he says.
“Victims are told they have won a large cash prize, but are asked to send some sort of fee to release it. We remind people that no genuine lottery or competition would ask you to send money to claim a prize.”
One scam which particularly affected Mrs Looke was when she started receiving letters from clairvoyants, claiming they could see big winnings in her future if she sent them cash.
“The scammer writes a generic letter, showing false concern and pretending that they are going to a lot of trouble to give the reader good health, wealth and happiness,” explains Chris.
“Clairvoyant scammers will often blackmail their victims by telling them that they will be plagued by bad luck if they don’t send money.”
Other common scams include those that involve false bank and building society letters, debt recovery companies or catalogue and brochure scams.
“One recent scam involved fraudsters claiming to be from Microsoft,” adds Matthew.
“They convinced people to follow instructions which would enable them to remotely access their PC to rectify a fictitious problem.
“They then gained permission to invade their victim’s PC remotely, allowing them to access security passwords and logins. They installed programmes on devices leaving their victims at risk indefinitely.”
For older people, the consequences of misplaced trust are often severe.
Research shows that more than seven out of 10 older people in Britain, that’s over 6.6 million people, are targeted by scams every month with the identified individual loss to fraud in the UK purporting to be in the region of £1.5 billion for older people.
This figure is, however, only what is reported – many fraud-related crimes go unreported so the true cost is unknown.
But despite these worrying statistics, Chris believes the message is starting to get across thanks to campaigning groups like Think Jessica and the work locally of Home Instead Senior Care.
“It’s a battle that can be won, no question about it,” he adds. “I think through organisations like ourselves and the work the police is doing to get this information into the media, the message is getting through.”