Scam victims in Devon and Somerset to get better advice and help

Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service has joined a national initiative to support victims of mass marketing scams.

The National Scams Team is a project funded by the National Trading Standards Board and hosted by East Sussex Trading Standards Service. It works with local trading standards authorities, and a range of other organisations including the Police and Royal Mail to help identify serial victims of mass marketing scams.

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the National Trading Standards board, said: “The National Trading Standards Scams Team undertakes a vital role in helping victims of mass marketing scams. They work with local trading standards services, the police and other agencies to help prevent and disrupt scammers, whilst educating and supporting victims. We are very pleased that Devon and Somerset County Councils are going to support the work the Scams Team are doing”

Scammers routinely target the public by email, letter, phone or through adverts, trying to lure victims with false promises of large cash prizes, goods or services in exchange for upfront fees – or, what they call, ‘taxes’ or ‘donations’.

Scams can also involve pretend lotteries or sweepstake draws where victims are asked to send payments in order for their winnings to be ‘processed’, or a letter asking to help transfer money out of another country in return for a percentage of the money being transferred.

Another common scam is charity donation fraud where fake charities play on people’s sympathy by asking them to make donations to a worthy cause.

A recent example of fraud is through internet dating sites where perpetrators try to gain the trust of someone looking for a partner before asking for money for a variety of emotive reasons.

While Trading Standards authorities always try to help victims, more, they say, could be done to improve the fractured process of identifying and supporting often silent victims of mass marketing fraud.

Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service has now joined The National Scams Team and hopes to form a close working partnership with the police and adult social services to provide more comprehensive support for victims.

They also want to share within that partnership intelligence and enforcement activities against the perpetrators of these frauds.

The National Scams Team will soon be passing a list to Trading Standards, which has already identified around 4,000 potential chronic scam victims across Devon and Somerset.

Paul Thomas, Head of the Devon and Somerset Trading Standards Service says: “Scams are being organised in a professional manner by criminals looking to encourage us to part with our money for absolutely no legitimate reason whatsoever. They share information about their victims with other scammers around the world who then plague their victims with letters, emails and telephone calls.

“By joining the National Scams Team we can work with our partners including the police and adult social services to offer support to scam victims and rid our community of this criminal activity.”

Devon County Council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for Trading Standards, Cllr Roger Croad said: “We know that scams are often targeted specifically at vulnerable or disadvantaged consumers, such as those already in debt. People living alone, and without internet access or any way of being educated about scams or how to report them are their preferred targets. We have seen some scams which have had a devastating effect on victims and anything we can do to try and prevent people falling for this type of criminal activity is welcome news.”

Councillor David Hall, who is also responsible for the Trading Standards service at Somerset County Council, added: “Mass marketing scams continues to increase as technology allows greater pinpointing of potential victims and this presents a considerable challenge.

“As a general rule of thumb, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is. I would ask that anyone who looks after the more vulnerable or elderly members of their family or in their community, to be aware of these fraudulent special offers and make sure they simply say ‘no’.”

To find out more about Scam Awareness Month and ‘scam of the week’, go to the Devon and Somerset Trading Standards webpage: www.devonsomersettradingstandards.gov.uk

The Facts

• An estimated £3.5 billion pounds is sent abroad to foreign criminals every year as a result of mass marketing scam activity
• 7% of consumers who lost money lost more than £4,000.
• Help The Aged say 7 out of 10 older people are targeted (that’s more than 6.6 million people) by scammers every week
• 22,000 victims replied to one scam sending a total of around £500,000, in just one day, according to a recent report.
• The “Think Jessica” campaign, a pressure group highlighting the issues behind scam mailing confirms that they have received reports of silent victims losing £1million in a week. Their website also contains a number of specific examples of real-life scam victims.