Scams: be (or get?) conscious…not conned!

 In Helen Webster, Powers of Attorney, Probate & Estate Administration, Wills

Ridley & Hall’s Private Client department recently became aware of a huge crime epidemic that is sweeping across Britain: scams. Statistics show that 53% of people aged 65 and over have been targeted by scammers, yet we were shocked to discover that only 5% of these crimes are reported.

A scam, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a “trick, a ruse, a swindle, a racket” and its nearest synonym is fraud. The extent of the problem is being highlighted by National Trading Standards, who are trying to raise awareness of the problem with the Friends Against Scams campaign. As the National Trading Standards Scams Team explained in 2016, “scams make victims part with their money and personal details by intimidating them or promising cash, prizes, services and fictitious high returns on investment”, going on to clarifyScam further that all scams are crimes.

The scammers select their targets, who are usually older and often more vulnerable members of society, and then prey on their loneliness, vulnerability and their social isolation to get what they want: money. People who are defrauded in their own homes are 2.5 times more likely to either go into residential care, or die within a year. Once people become a victim of a scam, their details are shared and sold to other criminals, in what are cruelly named as “sucker lists”. The average age of a scam victim is 75. They are often lonely and the criminal is the only “friend” they have. The victims tend to suffer in silence as they feel ashamed that they have been taken advantage of.

So what are the scams that people are falling for?

It is hard to say, as new scams are uncovered every week and come in many forms. Broadly speaking, uninvited contact is received by email, letter, and telephone or in person making false promises to con victims out of money. The most common scams are fake lotteries, deceptive prize draws or sweepstakes, clairvoyants, computer scams, and romance scams. The criminals attempt to trick people with flashy, official looking documents or websites, or convincing telephone sales patter, with the aim of persuading them to send a processing or administration fee, pay postal or insurance costs or make a premium rate phone call. Doorstep Scams are crimes carried out by bogus callers, rogue traders and unscrupulous sales people who call, often uninvited, at people’s home under the guise of legitimate business or trade. The NTS Scams Team estimates that the detriment to UK consumers as a result of these scams is between £5 and £10 Billion a year!!!

How have Ridley & Hall got involved?

Well, as the Private Client department predominantly deals with the type of person that the scammers target, we feel that we have a duty to our clients and their loved ones to try to help them protect their assets, as usually the reality of a victim’s situation only comes to the attention of the authorities when they die, or exhaust their life savings, or when their relatives become aware of the problem. All our solicitors have therefore become Friends Against Scams, taking a online course to learn about the different types of scams and how to spot and support a victim. Whilst we are talking about our ‘vulnerable clients’ being targeted as a generic group, we should always remember that we are talking about someone’s mother, brother, aunt or daughter, and that these people are often in a situation that makes them vulnerable, rather than being vulnerable in themselves. We want to empower our clients to make safe and wise decisions, which is why we have decided to be proactive and join the fight to take a stand against scams.

This step by our Private Client department also coincides with Take Five To Stop Fraud Week which is running from 22 January to 26 January 2018 and is part of the national campaign from Financial Fraud Action UK and the UK Government, backed by the banking industry coming together to tackle fraud.

If you have any concerns that you or a loved one have been targeted by scammers, or have unfortunately been a victim of a scam or scams, please speak to a member of our Private Client team on 01484 538 421.

Helen Webster

Helen Webster Solicitor – Wills & Probate