A war veteran who was almost scammed out of his entire life savings has added his support to a Sheffield City Council-led campaign to crack down on rogue traders and scammers.
Called “Not Born Yesterday”, the 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.
Albert, from Manor Top, has bags and bags of bogus medicines in his kitchen cupboard, enough to last him several lifetimes. But they are all useless – and nearly cost him his life savings of £10,000.
The 92-year-old, who has lived in Sheffield all his life, saw active service in the Second World War in Northern Africa and Europe, before working for British Rail’s depot at Spital Hill for more than 25 years.
But brazen bluffers took advantage of Albert’s generosity and targeted him for £10,000 of bogus drugs for nearly five years, leaving him facing heavy overdraft charges – before his carer Sarah Simons stepped in.
Sarah, who works for Sarah Care Ltd and looks after Albert one day a week, along with her colleague Lauren-Jade Moffatt, who also looks after him, began to get suspicious and raised the alarm.
Sarah said: “Albert is a friend and I just couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong at first. His telephone kept on ringing and he didn’t have enough money for his weekly shopping.
“He started hiding things from me and was becoming more worried. He’d have episodes when he was really down and expressed worries he was going to go overdrawn.”
And it was when Sarah realised that Albert might have to scrap his respite care – a two-week break he looked forward to every Christmas – that she took action.
She said: “I felt I had to help and perhaps went further than I should have done by asking Albert if he had financial worries.
“He explained that he had letters from his bank and showed them to me. He had been charged £5,000 here, £2,000 there. I couldn’t believe it. He’s very trusting and I knew something wasn’t right.”
Albert had been targeted over the phone for a plethora of drugs by callers telling him they would cure his arthritis. Thinking they would work and believing in the best of people, he paid huge sums for jiffy bags full of worthless drugs and vitamins.
Sarah got in touch with Sheffield City Council’s Trading Standards team and they soon took decisive steps.
Sarah Poulson, from Sheffield City Council, said: “After visiting Albert and assessing how we could help, he agreed to trial one of our devices that screen and block nuisance calls.
“Like so many others, he was targeted by people who told him they could cure his arthritis, or his back pain. Sadly the packages that arrived from China and India are completely worthless and did no such thing.
“It’s only through his carers’ vigilance that action could be taken to stop this from happening further.”
Albert himself, who worked as a cook in the Army and still enjoys a social life of carveries and church visits, said he has changed his behaviour as a result.
He said: “I’ve learned a lesson. Well, you do, don’t you? And nobody’s learned more lessons in life than me.”
The “Not Born Yesterday” campaign is delivered through organisations and community groups, using the help of family, friends and neighbours 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.
“It is a sad fact that criminals prey on the most vulnerable. But once we are made aware of people being a victim of rogue traders or scams, we can use all the powers at our disposal to stop it happening again – and to bring these criminals to justice.
“Simple tools such as call blockers are changing people’s lives but, if we’re not aware of the problem, we can’t act. The message is to friends, families and neighbours – you can help us to help your loved ones.”
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.
Anyone who has concerns that someone they know may be a victim of scammers or rogue traders should call 03454 040506 or email firstname.lastname@example.org