POSTAL scams have affected more than 400 people in Sussex who lost a total of around £2m.
The fraudsters, who usually target the elderly, send letters either demanding money or claiming the victim has won a ‘prize’ and must send a percentage of the winnings to claim it.
Sussex Police managed to identify more than 400 people in the county who were affected by postal scams and said most of them were between 80 and 90 years old.
One of the victims was an 86-year-old man from Chichester, who was targeted by fraudsters and lost around £10,000.
He has since passed away, but his family managed to stop the payments.
The man’s name appeared on a list of potential victims provided to Sussex Police.
The victim’s daughter had concerns about where her father’s money had been going but did not know what to do about it.
Police said the man was ‘proud’ and did not like people prying into his private life.
But it soon emerged he sent a considerable sum of money over a long period of time and was even using someone in his local pub as a ‘postman’. It is estimated he lost up to £10,000 to conmen.
He denied sending the money, but police said ‘he was clearly doing so’.
A local police officer and the man’s daughter worked together to stop her father sending any more money. His post was redirected, power of attorney was obtained by his son and the sending of money ceased.
However scam letters are still being sent to his house.
The daughter subsequently found nearly every cupboard and storage space in the house crammed with scam mail.
Criminals worldwide are sending millions of scam letters into the UK targeting elderly and vulnerable members of our communities.
Police said for many vulnerable people, the bombardment of scam mail resulted in fear, severe financial difficulties and ultimately a decline in both physical and mental health.
Working with the Metropolitan Police and the National Scams Hub, Sussex Police obtained a list of potential victims containing the names and addresses of 1,537 people living in Sussex.
Owing to the age group of the victims, many had already died or moved home.
In Operation Signature, during the past six months local officers spoke to more than 900 people across the county, who had been named on the seized list.
From the visits they found more than 400 of these elderly vulnerable people had lost a total of more than £2m.
The majority of the identified victims had not recognised that they were victims of fraud.
Police said chronic victims of scam mail were hounded by numerous criminal organisations – after replying to the first ‘tempter’ letter, victim’s names and addresses are put on a ‘target’ list – these lists were then sold to criminals all over the world.
This is a national issue that to date has never been quantified, although it is estimated to be costing UK pensioners billions of pounds per year.
Chief superintendent Wayne Jones said: “This is a mean and heartless crime that targets elderly, vulnerable and often lonely people.
“The scams usually involve the victims receiving letters and sometimes phone calls from overseas claiming that they have either won money and need to send a percentage of the ‘winnings’ to claim their prize or that they should send money in with competition entries.
“Sometimes the scams include fake charities and the sending out of catalogues offering cheaply made goods, cakes and biscuits at exorbitant prices.
“Many, if not all of the scammers are based overseas and they do share victims’ details with the result that people can receive dozens of letters all telling them that they have been ‘specially selected’. They have been ‘specially selected’, but sadly to be a victim of crime.
“The volume of mail they receive can be overwhelming, we have visited victims who are receiving hundreds of scam letters every week.
“We have seen victims who have lost their entire life savings and prefer to send their pension to the scammers rather than buy food and pay for heating. Several of our victims have incurred large debts and their quality of life has been massively affected. Sadly we have even encountered examples where victims suffer anxiety, depression and in once case attempted suicide.”
Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne said; “This campaign to protect the more vulnerable in our society has my full support. I have an elderly mother and would be devastated if she was to fall victim to such a despicable crime. Everyone has a responsibility to look out for those in the community who could be more susceptible to being scammed in this way.”
Find out more
For further information on the background to Operation Signature and how to prevent this type of fraud see the Sussex Police website - www.sussex.police.uk/help-centre/ask-us/fraud,-scams-and-financial-issues/what-is-operation-signature
For further information on this and many other types of scam, please see The Little Book of Big Scams here or visit your local police station to obtain a copy.