“Councils are receiving reports of scams every day from victims whose confidence and trust in people has been shattered, leaving them anxious and scared of being targeted and harassed again.”
More than two scams and attempted scams a day are being reported to some councils as they crack down on criminals running shams ranging from fake online dating and disability parking badge sites to bogus diamond investment schemes and weight-loss devices.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, is urging people to report all scams which costs UK citizens nearly £10 billion a year.
Fraud, which includes scams, is now the most common type of crime, accounting for 3.6 million crimes in England and Wales last year. But this could be the tip of the iceberg as only 5 per cent of scams are reported, often due to embarrassment or people simply being unaware they have been deceived.
The LGA is urging victims not to suffer in silence, but to report all scams to help raise awareness of latest swindles and fight fraudsters more effectively.
In one council alone – West Sussex Council – trading standards officers have received more than 800 cases of scams and attempted scams since July 2016 – equating to more than two a day and costing victims £383,000.
Trading standards teams at councils elsewhere have secured successful recent prosecutions for various scams and warned residents about sham schemes which have cost victims vast sums of money. They include:
- Warwickshire County Council was contacted by a woman who reported losing more than £30,000 to someone who contacted her via a dating website; a man who is thought to have sent more than £50,000 to fraudsters after being tricked into ‘investing’ in pink diamonds; and prosecuted a trader renting out ‘ultrasonic liposuction’ devices which he falsely claimed would enable users to lose weight without exercise or dieting, but in fact proved ineffective and gave customers electric shocks
- National Trading Standards prosecuted a man from Essex and his company who misled 102 disabled people into paying £49 a time for Blue Badge parking permits – normally bought from local councils for £10 – using copycat websites. He was ordered to pay more than £15,000 in compensation and costs
- In a prosecution by Redbridge Borough Council a man was jailed and his accomplice received a suspended prison sentence after taking advance fees from clients for the purpose of arranging mortgages that were never provided
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:
“Heartless, money-grabbing fraudsters don’t care about the financial and emotional distress their sham schemes cause. They just want to exploit people, many of whom are elderly or vulnerable, into parting with their hard-earned money or life savings and vanish without a trace.
“Councils are receiving reports of scams every day from victims whose confidence and trust in people has been shattered, leaving them anxious and scared of being targeted and harassed again.
“Fraud not only leaves victims out of pocket, it also creates significant costs for taxpayers as elderly victims in particular often require more care and support after being scammed.
“Although scammers often target the vulnerable, anyone can be fooled by a fake businessman, scheme or rogue trader as fraudsters are always devising new ways to con people out of their savings.
“It’s important that victims don’t suffer in silence or feel embarrassed. By reporting a scam, people can help someone else avoid being a victim and help councils track down the fraudsters, bring them to justice and recover their money.
“We want to encourage people to speak out and give their families or carers the information they need to take action.”
Advice on avoiding scams is available from councils and their partner agencies. People should report scams, rogue traders or uninvited doorstep callers to Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or Action on Fraud.
- More than 800 cases of actual and attempted scams have been reported to West Sussex Trading Standards since 1 July, 2016. This cost victims a total of £383,000. In that period, an additional 125 doorstep incidents saw residents scammed out of a further £85,000. West Sussex Trading Standards has also prevented 99.7 per cent of 15,572 nuisance and scam calls after the first of 80 call blocker devices were installed in residents’ homes in February 2016.
- Warwickshire County Council trading standards have been contacted by consumers who have fallen victim to dating scams. One victim reported losing more than £30,000 after being contacted online by someone she thought was in the American Army. Trading standards officers are also warning of bogus investment opportunities after a resident was contacted over the phone and convinced to ‘invest’ in pink diamonds from the world’s last pink diamond mine. It is believed that he may have sent more than £50,000 to fraudsters. The council prosecuted a trader renting out ‘ultrasonic liposuction’ devices which he claimed in false and misleading adverts would enable users to lose weight without exercise or dieting, despite no scientific evidence to prove this. Some of the devices gave customers electric shocks. Customers who complained were unable to claim a refund because the businessman had hidden his true identity from them.
- A man from Essex and his company who misled 102 disabled people into paying £49 a time for Blue Badge parking permits using copycat websites was ordered to pay more than £15,000 in compensation and costs following an investigation by National Trading Standards. The badges are normally bought from local councils for £10.
- Redbridge Borough Council prosecuted two men after receiving a large number of complaints about a company taking advance fees from clients for arranging mortgages that were never provided. The company’s adverts were targeted at those that had poor credit histories or who had been unable to obtain a mortgage from a high street bank, making potential customers financially vulnerable. One of the men was jailed for two years and banned from being a company director for 10 years, while the other received a 12-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work.
- Fraud against UK citizens was estimated at £9.7 billion annually, according to the Annual Fraud Indicator 2016
- Only five per cent of scams are reported.