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Hampshire County Council Trading Standards Service is bringing together organisations from across Hampshire and the South to help find more methods to protect vulnerable residents from being targeted by scams and fraudsters.
A day of action will be held today - Thursday 17 November - to explore how residents, local authorities, police and voluntary groups can work in partnership to find more solutions for those people at the greatest risk. Victims will often be groomed by fraudsters and tricked into handing over huge sums of money, and in some cases, their life savings.
In the last eight months, officers from Hampshire Trading Standards have discovered vulnerable residents who have been duped into handing over almost £5million. One elderly Hamble man is believed to have parted with £4million alone as a result of regularly spending money on fake shares and investments. Efforts to recoup his funds have unfortunately been unsuccessful. Help has been provided to prevent him from sending off more money in future, but the man may now have to sell his home.
Tricksters are using more and more convincing techniques to target their victims, often grooming them with persistent phone calls and scam mail. The most common types of scam involve prize draws and lotteries, scam land sales, timeshare holiday clubs, and boiler room frauds which use high-pressure sales techniques to persuade victims to buy shares which may not exist or turn out to be worthless.
In response to the growing number of extremely vulnerable victims that are targeted, Trading Standards set up a Financial Abuse Safeguarding Unit in 2009, which has recouped £436,536 on behalf of victims who would often find it impossible to give evidence in court due to their specific impairments such as dementia, mental health problems, learning difficulties or physical limitations. Using their mediation skills, Trading Standards officers aim to put the consumer back into the position they were in before they were targeted.
Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Ken Thornber said: "Many vulnerable consumers can be socially isolated and worry about the situation they find themselves in and this distress can have a very negative effect on their social wellbeing. The Financial Abuse Safeguarding Unit is a vital resource which has already received national recognition for the role that it plays in minimising the stress that is experienced by these very vulnerable people.
"It is however, just one area of work that is underway in Hampshire to tackle this growing problem but by working together during a day of action, we hope to explore more ways in which collectively, we can protect these victims in the future."
The advice on how to avoid falling victim to scams is to never part with any money to obtain a prize offered through unsolicited offers and never give out your bank or credit card details to a firm that hasn't first been checked by Trading Standards.
If you are unsure of an offer, speak to family or friends, Trading Standards officers or even an accountant, or solicitor or bank official if big sums of money are involved. If you notice a friend, relative or neighbour receiving large quantities of junk mail, they could be an innocent victim.
Local case studies:
Winchester Trading Standards were contacted by the friend of a victim who was worried that the lady had spent over £250,000 on plots of land that did not exist.. After visiting the victim, Trading Standards Officers discovered that she had taken out several loans to pay the scammers and had put her house up for sale to cover the costs.
Eastleigh - The wife of an elderly man contacted Trading Standards as she had concerns about some shares he had bought. It transpired that he had spent over £60,000 on the shares which appeared to be fake and worthless. The couple are unlikely to see their money again.
Hamble - Trading Standards were alerted to an elderly man who was regularly spending money on fake shares and investments. After a visit to the man with Hampshire Police, Trading Standards Officers discovered he had spent approximately £4million. It was not possible to get this back for him and steps were taken to prevent him sending more money away. He may now have to sell his house.
Hythe - Trading Standards Officers were alerted to an elderly couple who had spent just under £3,000 on two Lasting Power of Attorney documents. After inspection by a solicitor, it appeared the documents had not been prepared properly and could be open to legal challenge. Despite Officers' best efforts, it was not possible to obtain a refund as the firm was dissolved.
Aldershot - An elderly lady's daughter contacted Trading Standards after becoming concerned that she was sending away money to worthless prize draws. The victim had amassed numerous parcels and gifts, all of which were worth very little. Over one year, she had parted with approximately £1,000.
Basingstoke - An elderly lady contacted Trading Standards as she was concerned about money she had paid for a company to sell her timeshare, on her behalf. Despite having paid approximately £1,250, the company were still pursuing her for more. The lady was able to get a refund through her bank and was advised to ignore further letters asking for payment.
If you think you or someone you know is being targeted, contact Trading Standards or Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 who can provide help and advice. For advice and how to forward scam e-mails sent to your home or work, visit http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/watch_out/Scams/