18 February 2009
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
February is Scam Awareness Month and the Office of Fair Trading is joining with charities and MPs to highlight the hidden misery of thousands of elderly and vulnerable consumers who fall victim to scams. I am sure that many people will have read the tragic case reported in last Saturday’s Evening News of a pensioner who was conned out of her life savings after replying to scam mail. For many people, scam e-mails and post are nothing more than a minor irritation, filling up mailboxes and cluttering doormats before being deleted or recycled. However, as the three million people in the UK who were the victims of a scam last year know, they can ruin lives.
It is easy to be dismissive of many of the more fanciful attempts used by the scammers. However, if advertising didn’t work, companies would not spend millions of pounds every years on it. And, by the same token, con artists would not send their e-mails and letters if they didn’t occasionally work.
Scammers operate through a ruthless circle of psychological and financial abuse. They gain people’s trust and exploit fears, insecurities and pain to steal as much money as they can from those who can least afford it.
Anyone can fall for a scam but the elderly are often hit hardest. Victims are often isolated, over-trusting or afflicted by illnesses such as dementia and can be repeatedly targeted. Many lose their life savings and suffer depression and ill health as a result. In total, £3.5 billion is lost every year as consumers fall victim to scams sent by post, e-mail, text, the phone and internet.
In response to a growing number of constituents reporting scams, I have launched a Safer Communities pack containing helpful information on the best ways to avoid unsolicited calls or mail, dishonest doorstep sellers and internet and phone fraudsters.
But by far the best way to protect yourself and your family is to talk to, and look out for, one another. Sometimes all it takes is a friendly face to remind you that if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.