Warning after more than 800 scams reported to council

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More than 800 scams, costing victims hundreds of thousands of pounds, have been reported to West Sussex County Council over the past year.

New research by The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has found the county council is receiving more than two complaints a day about scams or attempted scams, ranging from fake online dating and disability parking badge sites to bogus diamond investment schemes and weight-loss devices.

The association said it found West Sussex Trading Standards alone had received more than 800 cases of scams and attempted scams since July 2016 – costing victims £383,000.

Scams cost UK citizens nearly £10 billion a year and fraud is now the most common type of crime, accounting for 3.6 million crimes in England and Wales last year.

The Local Government Association said this could be the tip of the iceberg as its research found only five per cent of scams are reported, often due to embarrassment or people simply being unaware they have been deceived.

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

Action for Fraud has warned this week about bogus traders using the Grenfell Tower fire to pose as council officials or professionals in the fire prevention industry.

It said scammers are attempting to defraud people for services or goods that don’t exist or aren’t necessary, such as a free or subsidised safety inspection of a property.

Trading standards teams at councils across the country have secured successful recent prosecutions for various scams and warned residents about sham schemes which have cost victims vast sums of money.

A spokesman for The Local Government Association said: “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.”

Advice on avoiding scams is available from councils and their partner agencies.

Residents are asked to report scams, rogue traders or uninvited doorstep callers to the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or Action Fraud.