[C]umbria Police have launched a campaign to raise awareness of telephone scams as one victim’s family shares their story and urges people to safeguard the finances of their elderly relatives.
The victim – a north Cumbrian woman in her 80s – was defrauded out of more than £320,000 after a fraudster persuaded her to move money as part of a so-called ‘investment’.
Her daughter, who wishes to remain anonymous, described the scammers as ‘unscrupulous individuals’.
She said: “My parents were both fiercely independent with their own financial affairs, and I had no reason to doubt their capabilities regarding such matters, but my father passed away a number of years ago, leaving my mother in sole charge.
“The first sign that things weren’t quite right was when the financial advisor called me to say my mother had moved some money out of an account he had set up for her, so I questioned her about it.
“She said it was being done through the bank, but in fact, this money was going to a cold caller who had rung a number of times and befriended my mother, making out he was part of a large financial firm in London.
“He rang numerous times for a chat, and bolstered his background story, persuading her to invest in his company to earn far more than she was getting. She transferred the money in several lump sums.
“The most upsetting thing about it all is that my parents have worked hard all their lives to save and invest their money, not only them, but previous generations throughout the years. It’s a life changing amount of money that has gone, and I’ve been told that there are other elderly people throughout the country who have succumbed to these evil people.”
The victim’s daughter urged members of the public to ensure the finances of their elderly relatives were safe.
“Please, please, make sure you safeguard your elderly relatives from these unscrupulous individuals,” she added.
“Be aware of their financial circumstances, and if they are not capable of looking after their own finances, get some professional advice.
“This experience, the fact that people will take advantage of vulnerable elderly people who are trusting, has left us all shocked and sickened.”
Over the past year, Cumbria Constabulary has received many similar calls involving fraudsters purporting to be from a range of organisations, including HMRC, banks, courts and police.
These scammers tell victims that they owe money – whether that be in tax, parking offences, or some other form of debt, and often give a deadline to meet for payment.
Some have told their victims that they can pay using iTunes vouchers, which can be bought from local supermarkets. There have been 21 reports of this type of incident in the last 12 months (01/03/2017 to 28/02/2017).
Detective Sergeant Stephanie Goulding said: “For those who are familiar with the use of iTunes vouchers, you may think that you would be able to detect such a scam quite easily. However, these fraudsters can be extremely intimidating and convincing and many of those in their 70s and 80s would never have heard of iTunes vouchers, so have no understanding that they are not a legitimate way to pay off debt.
“We ask that friends and family speak to their relatives and neighbours to make them aware that this is happening.”
iTunes released a statement saying: “It’s important to know that iTunes Gift Cards can be used ONLY to purchase goods and services on the iTunes Store, App Store, iBooks Store, or for an Apple Music membership. If you’re approached to use the cards for payment outside of the iTunes Store, App Store, iBooks Store, or Apple Music, you could very likely be the target of a scam.
“Please do not ever provide the numbers on the back of the card to someone you do not know. Once those numbers are provided to the scammers, the funds on the card will likely be spent before you are able to contact Apple or law enforcement.”
As well as payment via iTunes vouchers, victims have been asked to make payment over the phone and by withdrawing money from a bank, which is then later collected.
Police officers have worked with bank staff to give them the confidence to identify where a customer is being coerced or tricked into withdrawing or transferring money.
The national initiative has prevented more than £82,000 being handed to fraudsters since it launched on July 31st 2017, in 37 separate incidents.
DS Goulding continued: “The victims of the Banking Protocol incidents have had an average age of 75-years, and it is encouraging to see that the scheme has had success, despite victims often being given an excuse by the fraudster to use if questioned.
“We are doing everything we can, working with others, in the fight against these criminals to protect the public, particularly the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, these figures will not show a true reflection of the problem because there will be many victims who are afraid to report the crime.
“We’d encourage anyone who thinks they have been a victim of fraud to contact us and Action Fraud. Don’t be intimidated by the scammers or ashamed, and let us help you.
“I’d also like the re-emphasise my appeal to friends and family to speak to others and help them be aware of the scammers who unfortunately will continue to target those they think they can easily scam. Please highlight the below points to them.”
- Never give your personal details
- Never give your bank details
- Do not make any payments
- Do not trust the caller display
- Do not be rushed or intimidated
- Never be afraid to hang up
- Not to be afraid to report fraud, and not to be afraid to say not to anyone suspected of being a fraudster
Cumbria Police have created flyers highlighting such advice, which will be disseminated by PCSOs around the county. Smaller advice cards have also been developed, in the hope that vulnerable people can keep these by their phones as a reminder when the phone rings.
A webchat has also been set up, which allows people to ask anonymous questions about fraud, and have these answered by specialist fraud officers. This will run until April 8th and can be found here https://www.cumbria.police.uk/Advice-Centre/Crime-Prevention/Fraud-Webchat.aspx
Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall said: “I can’t emphasise enough the importance of getting this message out. Sadly, too many people are still falling prey to the scammers. Very often those affected are the elderly and vulnerable, which is despicable, and I am determined we must pursue the perpetrators robustly. However, we are now seeing more sophisticated and convincing scams, and anyone would be forgiven for falling for them. That is why we really must all remain vigilant.”
An HMRC spokesperson said: “Phone scams are widely reported, and generally attempt to target elderly and vulnerable people. They often involve people receiving a call out of the blue and being told that HMRC is investigating them. If you can’t verify the identity of the caller, we recommend that you do not speak to them.
“HMRC will call people about outstanding tax bills, and sometimes use automated messages, however it would include your taxpayer reference number. If you are uncertain of the caller hang up and call HMRC directly to check – you can confirm our call centre numbers online if you are unsure. For tax credits we do not include your details in any voicemail messages.”
For further crime prevention advice on fraud visit https://www.cumbria.police.uk/Advice-Centre/Crime-Prevention/Fraud.aspx
If you are a victim of fraud that is a crime in progress and you need an immediate police response dial 999.
If you think that you have been the victim of a fraud and it is a non-emergency situation report this to the Cumbria Constabulary on 101 and to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040, or by visiting their website http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/