19th February 2024

Scams after-care: a problem shared

A collaboration between the charity Age UK and Trading Standards continues to make a real difference by providing after-care support to older victims of scams


By Richard Young
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As a former Trading Standards Officer, this is one of the best projects I’ve come across

Becoming a victim of fraud can be a traumatic, frightening and sometimes embarrassing experience for anyone. In addition to the financial loss it entails, it undermines the victim’s self-confidence and mental health, and can have far-reaching repercussions for their general quality of life.

For older people though, the impact of falling victim to fraud can be particularly overwhelming; it can decimate retirement savings and lead to a loss of independence, and National Trading Standards (NTS) research shows that elderly people defrauded in their own homes are more likely either to die or go into residential care within a year.

Factor in the sad tendency for elderly victims to be targeted repeatedly, their personal data bought and sold by criminals looking to exploit their vulnerability in the most cold-hearted way imaginable, and it becomes clear that there is a real need for older people who have been scammed to receive an extra measure of support — and for others to be given the tools to avoid being scammed in the first place.

Which is why when Cheshire East Trading Standards Officers Mark Lodge and Andy Burrows approached Age UK Cheshire East in 2017 about kickstarting a project designed to provide support to elderly scam victims, the charity leapt at the opportunity.

Sally Wilson is Project Manager of the Age UK Cheshire East Scams Awareness & Aftercare project, which resulted from that initial meeting. She says: “Trading Standards came to us, which gave the project some gravitas and encouraged buy-in from our side. The project set out to address the fact that Trading Standards were getting repeat victims of fraud and doorstep crime. Some of these cases had resulted in prosecutions, but by that time the victims’ lives had imploded.”

According to Lodge, “Trading Standards has got a long history of safeguarding older people, who are particularly susceptible to the effects of crime. But we were coming across a large number of victims who weren’t aware initially that they were victims, and it was quite apparent to us that there was a need for after-care. We were very good at delivering awareness sessions, and we were very good at detecting fraud and prosecuting where necessary; but after a case has ended, Trading Standards will just sort of disappear, leaving somebody possibly prone to another fraud.

“What the Age UK Cheshire East team has been able to achieve fully exceeded our expectations,” he adds.

The Garfield Weston Foundation and the National Lottery Community Fund provided the project’s initial funding for 2020-22. Age UK extended the funding in January 2022 for a further two years, with supplementary funding from the Cheshire East Police and Crime Commissioner.

Local heroes
Recurring problems in Cheshire East, as elsewhere in the country, include doorstep crime and cold-calling, as well as mail scams and romance scams targeting the lonely and socially isolated. Among the practical solutions the project has focused on are the installation of call blockers and the setting up of new bank accounts for victims. It has also set out to address the underlying issues of why victims were vulnerable in the first place.

“Prevention is better than cure, so we deliver awareness talks and visit people in their homes to talk to them after they have been scammed,” says Wilson.

“We wanted to reach as many people as possible, and we knew that it couldn’t all be done by one person. And so that’s where we brought in volunteers who come from a wide range of backgrounds, including in cybersecurity, IT and law enforcement.”

One of those volunteers is Nora Walsh, retired Head of Trading Standards at the City of London Corporation. When she moved to Cheshire East two years ago, she was determined that her experience and skills should be put to good use. “Because I was so passionate about combatting scams and helping victims where I could, I saw this role and volunteered for it,” she says. “When you’re dealing with victims or people who have had near misses, it’s great to be able to go to their homes and spend time with them. Because you haven’t got another 20 visits to do that day, or 100 complaints sitting on your database waiting for you to deal with, you can take the time to deal with those people and really get to the bottom of what’s happening.”

That personal touch has enabled the project to have a real impact, Wilson says. “We’ve delivered awareness sessions to over 2,000 older people, and there are around 200 victims of fraud who we’ve supported in some way, shape, or form. We also produce our bulletin which goes to at least 6,000 people, and reaches thousands more via social media.”

Due recognition
The success of the project has not gone unrecognised. It was highly commended in the Brian Smith Award category at CTSI’s Hero Awards in November, and recently the initiative’s funding has been continued for a further two years. It has also become part of the Age UK national Scams Prevention and Support Programme.

“All of us working on the project have something that binds us together: we’ve either been victims of fraud ourselves, we’ve had very near misses, we’ve had family members who have been victims of fraud, or we have just a passion of wanting to combat injustice,” says Wilson.

The project has also found many useful allies, says Lodge. “We’ve got the police on board, the Safer Cheshire East Partnership, and Adult Safeguarding. We’ve also extended the links we have with financial institutions and we’re regularly delivering sessions to banks, who are very good at identifying possible victims.”

“As a former Trading Standards Officer, this is one of the best projects I’ve come across in terms of its longevity and the partnership between Trading Standards and Age UK,” Walsh concludes. “I don’t think there are many examples where that sort of partnership has sustained itself and grown. I’m really proud to be associated with it.”

For further information about getting involved, or setting up a project in your area, contact Nikita Vadolia, National Project Manager for the programme: nikita.vadolia@ageuk.org.uk

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