Sussex Police has become the first force to quantify the scale of a scam mail fraud which is costing pensioners millions of pounds
Criminals worldwide are sending millions of scam letters into the UK targeting elderly, vulnerable members of our communities. For many vulnerable people, the bombardment of scam mail results 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 set up by East Sussex Trading Standards, 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 sadly died, or moved.
Operation Signature has been running for the past six months and local officers have spoken to more than 900 people across the county, who had been named on the seized list. From the visits they found that more than 400 of these elderly vulnerable people had lost a total of more than £2,000,000.
The majority of the identified victims were between the ages of 80 and 90 and almost all of these had not recognised that they were victims of fraud.
The Operation Signature campaign is now a permanent feature of local policing with leaflets and awareness visits and talks, starting this week. Signature scam mail awareness posters are appearing on buses across the county, and advice leaflets are being distributed to every home in Sussex with the annual council tax notice.
Chronic victims of scam mail are hounded by numerous criminal organisations – after replying to the first ‘tempter’ letter, victim’s names and addresses are put on a ‘target’ list and these lists are sold to other criminals all over the world.
It is a national issue that to date has never been quantified, although it’s estimated to be costing UK pensioners billions of pounds per year. It is widely suggested much of the money sent abroad is being used to fund both drugs and terrorism.
PC Bernadette Lawrie said, “It was our recent involvement with a 94 year old local victim that highlighted the despicable nature of this type of criminal activity and the lack of support, advice and recognition currently available for victims and their families. He had sent more than £100,000 since 2007 in response to scam mail regarding lottery wins to criminal gangs abroad, making his money transfers through local post offices. He was being bombarded daily with masses of scam mail and telephone calls to his home from criminals demanding money fraudulently.”