By HARVEY GAVIN
SCAM WARNING: The phone and mail cons fleecing Britain’s vulnerable pensioners
ORGANISED criminal gangs are preying on elderly and vulnerable people across the UK and defrauding them out of millions of pounds in postal and phone scams, a charity has warned.
Heartless fraudsters are deliberately targeting people living alone, particularly those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, who are less likely to realise they are being conned.
Scams range from bogus competitions and catalogues selling sham products to far more sinister clairvoyant cons where ‘fortune tellers’ threaten their victims with curses or family bereavements unless they pay up for ‘protection’.
And once victims fall for one scam, their name is passed around by criminal gangs as part of a ‘suckers list’.
Some go on to lose a relatively small amount while others are conned out of their life savings.
Unfortunately it’s a never ending conveyor belt of potential victims.
The nephew of one elderly victim recently discovered his aunt had been fleeced out of £550,000 in a single scam.
And Marilyn Baldwin founder of the Think Jessica charity has warned the problem is not going away.
She founded the organisation after her 83-year-old mother, Jessica, was bombarded with 30,000 pieces of scam mail over the course of five years.
She says the stress of receiving hundreds of letters every day led to her death.
Mrs Baldwin told Express.co.uk: “We’re still getting reports of lots of victims.
“Unfortunately it’s a never ending conveyor belt of potential victims, people are getting older and or some of them their mental health deteriorates.”
Scam mail is delivered through post-boxes across the country on a daily basis, but the majority of people recognise the post as junk and throw it away.
Mrs Baldwin spent eight years working with Royal Mail to have the postal service change its policy after her mother fell victim to a scam and was soon receiving dozens of pieces of bogus mail every day.
Eventually she managed to persuade the service to tell posties to not deliver any obvious scam mail to vulnerable people.
She said: “When I first started, postal scams were quite blatant. They’d say ‘you’ve won £10,000!’ or something right there on the envelope.
“They’d ask you to pay a small ‘admin fee’ to claim the prize, then suddenly you are receiving scam mail on a daily basis.
“The scammers obviously gotten word Royal Mail is looking out for obvious scams, so they’ve changed how they look.
A lot of the time now the envelopes blend in with normal post, they look like a utility bill or a bank statement.”
Phone and postal scams pose such a problem because many of the victims become willing participants, continuing to send money convinced they will win the cash prize they have been promised or paying for protection from clairvoyants.
Family members cannot tell banks to block transactions or close the bank accounts of relatives that have been duped unless they have power of attorney.
And for that authority to be granted the family member either has to agree to it or a doctor needs to agree they do not have the mental capacity to manage their own affairs.
Mrs Baldwin said many of the relatives of victims her charity supports are unable to help their loved ones because they are in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s, and so are not at the stage where power of attorney can be granted.
She said the biggest part of the problem is most victims do not realise they are being tricked and often refuse the help of family or friends.
Mrs Baldwin said scammers will call and pretend to be carrying out a telephone survey, while dropping in questions which reveal whether the victim lives alone, how gullible they are and whether they are tech-savvy enough to research any of the scams online.
She added: “These criminals are just working from mailing lists.
“You can go out and buy a list of people over 70-years-old in your area.
“Then they know exactly who to target.”
She is calling for a change in the law to allow families to protect their loved ones even though they don’t realise they are a victim.
She said: “Something needs to change.
“It isn’t right that families aren’t able to help sooner.”