Elderly people in North Yorkshire were defrauded of a total of more than £2.5m over the course of last year, a senior detective has revealed.
North Yorkshire Police revealed the “colossal” toll taken by fraudsters in 2016 as they urged residents to be vigilant against criminals “targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities”, often for tens of thousands of pounds.
A charity warned today that scams targeting the elderly were becoming more sophisticated, and offences were happening with “alarming frequency”.
In 2016, there were 2,467 reported incidents of fraud across North Yorkshire, with more than 1,000 of those cases involving a victim aged over 70.
According to North Yorkshire Police, a number of these incidents involve scams perpetrated by telephone, such as computer software service fraud, advance fee frauds, pension fraud and timeshares and holiday club fraud.
Fraudsters will call, claiming to be from a legitimate organisation such as a bank, service provider, utilities company or the police, in an attempt to convince the victim to reveal financial information or to transfer money into a third party account operated by criminals.
This is a colossal amount of money and it is extremely worrying that fraudsters are targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and tricking them for their criminal gain.Detective Chief Inspector Jon Hodgeon
The fraudster often supplies a fake number or the actual number of a customer reporting line to ring back on but keeps the line open, meaning the victim believes they are speaking to a genuine operative and discloses the information.
The fraud figures for North Yorkshire, which has an older and wealthier population than the national average, hint at the scale of an offence which has claimed more than 30,000 victims across Yorkshire in the last two years.
Police will be meeting older people around North Yorkshire in the coming weeks issuing advice and a credit card-sized sticker to place somewhere prominent to remind them of the risks.
Detective Chief Inspector Jon Hodgeon, Head of Fraud and Economic Crime at North Yorkshire Police, appealed for elderly people to take steps to avoid falling victim and for their friends and family to be vigilant.
He said: “This is a colossal amount of money and it is extremely worrying that fraudsters are targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and tricking them for their criminal gain.
“The fraudsters who operate these scams are highly organised and very adept in convincing people that they are legitimate.
“They often use clever tactics to gain personal information from the victim, which they will then use to convince the victim that they can be trusted.”
In 2016-17, there were 16,703 reports made to national fraud recording centre Action Fraud which were known to be from Yorkshire, up from 14,634 the previous year.
West Yorkshire Police saw the highest total, 6,942, with 1,089 of those being victims aged 65 or over, while 672 of the 2,728 North Yorkshire victims were aged over 65.
Last year, police warned that an elderly woman in her seventies from York lost almost £300,000 and a couple in their eighties from the Ryedale area lost over £300,000 pounds through several fraudulent transactions.
In February, North Yorkshire’s crime commissioner Julia Mulligan said the changing nature of crime meant fraud “has very quickly become one of the biggest and most common threats to each of us”.
She said: “Home Office research shows that here in North Yorkshire we are particularly vulnerable.
It will be no surprise to learn North Yorkshire has a higher than average older population, and those older people are, relatively speaking, wealthy.
“What’s more, given that the average age for a victim of fraud is 75, it is no wonder that criminals see North Yorkshire as potentially lucrative. And whilst by no means are all older people vulnerable, many are in one form or another.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “Sadly, figures like this come as little surprise to us as time and time again we are seeing statistics that highlight this horrible problem where scams are becoming more sophisticated while the risks they pose to people of all ages are growing.
“Scams not only destroy people’s hard-earned life savings but also their health and independence. To most of us it’s unbelievable that anyone would target an older person to defraud them but unfortunately it is happening with alarming frequency, and we know that some older people can be particularly at risk especially if they are lonely, isolated or are living with dementia.
“So, we welcome any initiatives involving the police, the community, and the family to help ensure older people do not fall victim to fraud. Banks can also play a vital role in stopping many scams.”
Police advise residents to take some simple security measures, such as;
Always make sure the person who has called you is genuine
Never give personal or financial details over the telephone without checking the caller is genuine and you have gone through security checks
Just because someone has called you do not mean you have to speak to them - you can call back in your own time and checked some security details
Don’t call back unknown telephone numbers
Hang up on suspicious callers and wait 30 seconds for the line to clear
Make a list of the important telephone numbers you need so that you can call back and check the call is genuine
Before committing to doing anything which involves proving personal details or a financial transaction, discuss it with a family member or friend
If you think you or a family member or friend has been a victim of fraud then report it to Action Fraud at http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud. For more information and advice visit www.northyorkshire.police.uk/fraud