16 December 2016

Neighbours and relatives of elderly and vulnerable people are being urged to join a campaign to crack down on rogue traders and scammers.

Called “Not Born Yesterday”, the Sheffield City Council-led campaign highlights the collaboration between Sheffield’s Trading Standards and Adult Safeguarding services and brings together a network of partners including South Yorkshire Police, Age UK Sheffield and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue.

Mail and telephone scams, rogue trading and doorstep crime are prevalent across the city but go largely unreported. This campaign is delivered through organisations and community groups – using the help of concerned friends, neighbours and relatives – who are best placed to spot the signs of this type of financial abuse and provide an effective and confidential route to refer concerns.

Spotting the warning signs and providing support to victims is a key aim of the project. Those being helped might be someone receiving lots of junk letters for mail order products and prize draws, being pestered by scam calls, or being targeted at the door for unnecessary property repairs or gardening work.

Councillor Bryan Lodge, cabinet member for the environment at Sheffield City Council, said: “We know that some of the most vulnerable people in Sheffield sadly won’t have face-to-face contact with many people on a daily basis, which is why it’s important that we use those living and working in our communities to look out for these people and be aware of the signs of scams and rogue trading.

“We will be raising awareness of these issues through public spaces such as community centres, GPs surgeries, libraries and other places that act as hubs of the community.

“It is a sad fact that criminals prey on the most vulnerable but, by raising awareness of the problem and giving people the knowledge they need to help spot the signs, we aim to reduce the level of offending and the risk of being a repeat victim of these types of crime.

“The message is to friends, families and neighbours – you can help.

“Is someone you know receiving lots of junk mail? Have they had work carried out on their house by someone who called at the door and demanded payment in cash?

“If so, let us know, and we can take strong, firm action against these criminals who take advantage of elderly people for their own financial gain.”

Sheffield Trading Standards has identified more than 600 residents in Sheffield who are known to be targeted by scam mail. National statistics suggest that at least half of scam victims lose more than £50, while five per cent lose more than £5,000. A third of adults responding to post or phone scams will then be repeatedly targeted with requests for money or sensitive personal details.

Last year, officers intervened in more than 30 serious incidents of doorstep crime involving elderly or vulnerable residents. The team investigated a similar number of allegations of rogue trading where people suffered “serious” financial loss.

The Not Born Yesterday network provides strong links between partners and improves the opportunities to safeguard individuals and pursue those involved in this type of criminality.

South Yorkshire Police’s force lead for burglary, Detective Chief Inspector Jade Brice, said: “South Yorkshire Police are committed to protecting members of the public, particularly vulnerable members of the public, who may be targeted by bogus and rogue scammers.

“The number of reports we receive relating to bogus calls do tend to increase at this time of year, but we have been working to put plans in place to prevent this increase and work with residents to provide them with advice and information on how to spot bogus and rogue scammers.”

A spokesman for Age UK Sheffield said: ““Age UK Sheffield regularly hears of older people being targeted by unscrupulous and unsolicited traders. If in doubt, older people should contact Trading Standards. Or, for independent advice, contact us on 0114 250 2850.”

Anyone who has concerns that someone they know may be a victim of scammers or rogue traders should call 03454 040506 or email trading.standards@sheffield.gov.uk

 

Case study

“He was so frightened of running out of money and not being able to pay these people that he didn’t want to go home.”

This is the story of a 49-year-old Sheffield woman, who was horrified to discover that her elderly uncle had lost around £30k of his life savings to unscrupulous rogue traders.

The 84-year-old man, who has asked to remain anonymous, was living alone in a house in leafy south west Sheffield when, in October 2015, a stranger knocked on his door and suggested he needed some repair work doing to his property.

He agreed to have a small amount of work done on his driveway and some pointing to brickwork, only for the traders to demand £4k in cash.

He emptied one of his bank accounts at a branch on Ecclesall Road and was heading into Sheffield city centre to try and withdraw the rest of the money from another account when he fell, and was taken to hospital with serious facial injuries.

A concerned neighbour alerted the family, who then discovered why he had been at the bank. His family were worried he might be suffering from the onset of dementia and, while helping him sort his financial affairs, uncovered what had been going on.

What the pensioner’s niece discovered, she said, was “horrifying.”

She said: “Understandably, after his fall, my uncle was in a very agitated state. His memory wasn’t good, he was very confused, and we went through his paperwork to see what had been happening.

“It was evident, the more I looked at the banks statements, that this had been going on for five or six years. Repeated substandard work had been done on the house and he had paid out around £30k in cash.

“There’s cement work that has been done which has lifted straight away, appalling new windows that have holes around the edges where they haven’t been filled properly, bits of gardening – all sorts.

“I dread to think how long it would have gone on for. We’re a small family and he wasn’t even comfortable talking to us as he’s a very quiet, private man. He didn’t want to be a burden and thought we were all too busy.

“The bank apparently had their suspicions about what was happening, as people would go down to the branch with him as he drew the cash out. They had been giving him leaflets about being a victim of fraud, but my uncle was so frightened that he carried on paying these people.

“When we reported this to Trading Standards they were brilliant. They came round to see us, spoke to my uncle, and put practical measures in place such as CCTV cameras. He’s moved out now, into new accommodation elsewhere, but this has taken a massive toll on him.

“He was so frightened of running out of money and not being able to pay these people that he didn’t want to go home.

“This has been an incredibly difficult year. The sort of people who do this, and prey on the elderly and vulnerable, are absolutely despicable.

“I would urge anyone who has any concerns that their friends, family, or neighbours, are victims of rogue traders to try and find out what’s going on, and get in touch with Trading Standards straight away.”

Ian Ashmore, Head of Environmental Regulation at Sheffield City Council, said: “Our priority was to make sure this vulnerable pensioner had the support he needed and to prevent him becoming a victim of these crimes in future.

“With the help of his family we were able to ensure their uncle had the necessary safeguarding support and advice from council staff. Practical measures, including CCTV and ‘no cold calling’ notices were used to help him feel safe when he first returned home.

“Protecting the vulnerable in our communities is at the heart of our work which includes investigating and prosecuting those responsible for these crimes.”