/ Money

Heartless scammers tricked mum into giving them money for 20 years

Isobel, 60, from Sandbach, tells how her mum Evelyn lost an estimated £80,000 to £100,000 to calls and letters from those she thought of as friends.

Mum ran a business for years, and was always independent, astute – never went into debt. When she started asking for money we thought it was a wobble, and helped her out. But it went on.

She was filling in newspaper ads and sending off her details, thinking she was going to get money. At first we thought, ‘She knows what she’s doing.’ Then while she was on holiday I looked after her house and collected three bin bags of junk mail. The letters said, ‘You’ve won a million pounds, but you need to pay an administration fee.’ She’d say: ‘It’s from the Royal Mail, it can’t be a scam.’

Plagued by postal and phone scams

It became almost like a job to sort through all this post. She was sending MoneyGrams everywhere – Jamaica, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium. The police even called to say her name had come up in a money-laundering scam. She lost track of time and would be shuffling these pieces of paper in the middle of the night and ring me, pleading: ‘I need this money now.’

I’d tell her these people were criminals and she’d get mad, saying awful things. It was painful because we’d always been close – I’m her only daughter.

The calls never stopped. I’d be there and it would ring, and her face would light up – it was someone saying she’d won something. She enjoyed the companionship and conversations. She thought they were her friends.

Mum sold all her jewellery and valuable items to a dealer who came out to the house. Even the dealer became concerned after overhearing many calls about winning the lottery and rang the police – but she still picked out more of Mum’s things to sell.

We tried everything

As a nurse, I’d looked after elderly people but it’s different when it’s your mum. She’d say, ‘I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go out. You don’t understand. These people are helping me.’

It filled a hole in her life and the scammers encouraged her to keep matters secret, especially from the family.

My brother got power of attorney so we could protect her. He found she’d sent out up to £1,200 in a week. We changed Mum’s number numerous times but the scammers always found her new one. If you think ex-directory is secure, think again.

We discovered a call divert system, which enables full control of incoming and outgoing calls and allowed selected calls to be diverted to my brother. She accused us of tampering with her phone, but it was for her safety and worked well.

But you can’t divert post without the recipient’s permission.

The police couldn’t do anything as ‘a crime has not been committed’. Trading standards gave Mum leaflets. Mum’s MP showed concern and six months later there was a letter from the Prime Minster saying the Government didn’t deal with individual cases and suggesting Citizens Advice, which we’d been to already!

There is nothing to protect vulnerable people.


Escaping into a care home

Mum was diagnosed with dementia in 2010. She didn’t want to live with me and went into a care home last November. Before, she looked stressed all the time, but she’s now calm and eating properly. The lottery still comes up; she thinks she’s in a hotel and the other guests have come for their winnings!

Life is much better. I can see her when I want and know she’s happy and safe. We think she’s been taken for between £80,000 and £100,000 over twenty years. I wish we could have intervened earlier, but there’s little you can do.

The warning signs are the amount of junk mail and calls, and of course the state of the bank account. Having power of attorney is vital: without it even family can do nothing to protect their loved ones.

This is a guest contribution by Isobel. All opinions are her own, not necessarily those of Which?

You can read the full version of this story on our Which? Elderly Care site.

Comments
Profile photo of william
Member

So sorry to hear your story, and equally sorry to think your mum isn’t alone. One piece of advice I would give is, if you haven’t got a call screening phone for your mum, then get one. I’ve had one for a few years and although the scammers still ring, they never get passed the phone, so I’ve never had to talk to a scammer for a few years now. The upshot of call screening is I don’t have to block ever changing numbers with only a limited number of slots. Good luck

Member
dieseltaylor says:
10 May 2016

Yet again a sad sad story. My father was similarly scammed and I have written in two other Conversations on ideas how to stop it. Martyn Lewis has recently launched what I consider a good protective concept for bi-polar etc. which could also cover the aged etc. In fact our ideas have a similarity.

There is also the Think Jessica site and I really think Which? should be linking us to these sites which are honed rather than diffusing the anger through multiple Conversations. I realise that number of hits may be a metric Which? likes but surely as a consumer charity it should be aiming at effectiveness and they may well mean mentioning other more relevant charities
thinkjessica.com/

On a grim note from the US yesterday:
https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-permanently-shuts-down-international-psychic-mail-fraud-scheme
Pursuant to the consent decree entered, the defendants are barred from using the U.S. mail to distribute any advertisements, solicitations or promotional materials on behalf of any psychics, clairvoyants or astrologers. The consent decree also enjoined the defendants from using the U.S. mail to distribute materials representing that services or items offered for purchase will increase the recipient’s odds of winning a lottery, will bring the recipient good luck or will entitle the recipient to receive an inheritance. The consent decree also authorized the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to return any money or personal checks sent to the defendants and detained by the Postal Inspection Service.

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Member
Peter Butler says:
11 May 2016

However much you try to help , however much advice they get from anyone some people not just vulnerable ones will always fall for some scam or another It’s a pity but what can your really do to help when they will not accept any help at all.

Member

Hi all,
Just had a scam phone call this very morning, 02031291027, American sounding robotic voiced lady claiming to be from HMRC, time sensative call, please contact us at this number,before we take action agianst you,etc,etc. Googled the number on the internet and lots of people have had exactly the same call with exactly the same message, so please look out for it and look out for anyone senior person that may have received it and may think it is ligitamate. IT IS A SCAM.

Member
Wahida says:
11 May 2016

My brother whos 19 got scammed in to trusting an online insurance broker paying him nealry £2000 of his savings for car insurance didnt recieve his paper work poor kids is soo distraught worked hard to save that im trying to retrieve the payment god knows if thats possible depending on the persons account. Kids adults especially young drivers please be so cautious when on social media i get its tempting having to pay less than what mainstream lenders offer but you rather pay more than go through this hassle i can assure you you will sleep better knowing your vehicle is covered properly do not trust these instgram twintter of facebook accounts that say they can get you a better deal

Member
John says:
11 May 2016

So just recently had four calls all allegedly from BT,but very amaturish in nature,”your internet is being corrupted etc,etc”,if I am not busy just string them along untill they get fed up,not had one since,but it is quite clear that companies could and should do more,for instance not paying companies for unfare rates and charges,They have a duty of care and are well able to take these companies on in the courts if necessary frankly their inaction in a disgrace!Had another EMail allegedly from the the Inland revinue which started Dear citizen it had an attachment which I did not open but the Dear citizen bit was a bit odd I thought.

Member
Irene James says:
11 May 2016

I had a scam phone call the other week from someone claiming to be TalkTalk my broadband supplier. They reeled off my details, name, address and the fact that I had a laptop registered with them. They said that their equipment had picked up that I was experiencing problems with my connection, which at the time I was. It was when they asked me to switch on my laptop that I twigged something was amiss. I promptly said that I was not happy with the call and hung up. I called TalkTalk who confirmed that there had been no outgoing call to me.
For the most part I no longer answer my landline because it’s either a scam or some charity.
How difficult would it be for phone companies to filter calls before arriving in the home? Obviously this is a major ongoing problem and one that each of us need to be diligent about. It does add to life’s stresses.
Irene

Member
k h says:
11 May 2016

The latest scam; Receiving a phone call and the caller saying you have phoned them, in turn in someway the money going to the scammer. de13.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

Isobel’s story should provide a warning that any of us could become victim of scams as we get older. The only answer I can see is to assume that anyone who phones, sends email or calls at the door might be up to no good.

Profile photo of alfa
Member

It never ceases to amaze me how many people get caught out by scams.

I have seen the TV advert that tells you your bank will never call you but we need more.

We need regular SCAM ALERTS.

My suggestion for TV:

Full screen with a dedicated logo and a commanding voice that says SCAM ALERT (like the POW in comics).

Then a short infomercial showing the scam in action and how to handle it. Suggest adding nuisance callers to their phone contacts as z-ignore then never answer that number again. Show mail scams to put straight into the recycling bin and how to get rid of doorstep callers. To keep people’s attention, film the same scam in a dozen different ways. Get famous people or celebrities to volunteer to take part. Or encourage budding young producers and actors to submit their variations, in other words, keep viewers interested otherwise they switch off.

These scam alerts need to be shown at the start of popular TV programs on the BBC, slotted into the adverts in popular programs on other channels and even children’s TV. There could even be a law that all TV channels have to dedicate 15 minutes a week (for free?) to scam infomercials.

By now, millions of pounds must have been spent by government and agencies discussing nuisance calls and scams and coming up with minor fixes that are not working. Let’s have something positive and start educating people to the dangers of these scams and how to avoid being a victim then there might be less victims like Evelyn.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

If TV does not succeed in getting over the message then I don’t know what will. Incorporating something into popular TV programmes such as the Lottery draw might be better than infomercials because many avoid commercials.

I don’t know whether it is best to look at individual scams or simply to warn people that every phone call, email or doorstep caller could be a threat.

Profile photo of alfa
Member

The middle of the Lottery draw, Watchdog, even the news channels that keep repeating themselves as they have little to say. There are many programs that SCAM ALERT could be incorporated into. Older people who don’t record programs but sit down to watch Downton Abbey, Strictly Come Dancing, old comedies (thinking of my parents here) could watch an infomercial at the start of the program.

I think you do need to portray individual scams as when ‘BT’ call with a computer problem people believe it is really them on the other end and blindly follow the instructions the known and respected company tells them to do.

Portraying individual scams is more likely to make people think twice when a new one comes along.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I’d still like to see telephone scams woven into the story lines of popular drama programmes and soaps [not because I would enjoy watching such scenes but because it might reach the target audience more effectively].

One of the problems is that there are far too many vulnerable and suggestible people on their own for long periods, and if they are also elderly they might be prone to thinking that if the telephone rings it must be something important and any instructions must be followed.

Profile photo of alfa
Member

That is another excellent way to get the message across John and would cost nothing to incorporate a story-line especially as writers/producers struggle for new material.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

I recall that the Lottery used the slogan ‘It could be you’, but suspect that it has been dropped. Maybe it would be a good slogan for TV warnings about scams.

I don’t know how many are victims of a scam but the odds are probably much higher than winning a decent prize in the Lottery.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

I don’t watch soaps so I’d be left vulnerable. And if the BBC is forced to drop “popular” programmes I’ll be even more deprived. Maybe if they incorporated scam warnings in the News instead?

As I have said before my police force sends regular emails round about current scams. Far more effective, perhaps, as they can be properly read, can contain more detail, are easily forwarded to relatives and friends, and don’t force me to watch Corrie to ensure I am kept protected.

wavechange, the lottery has changed its slogan to “please, not them”. Protecting others who are more vulnerable than us should be our aim. Perhaps this slogan is, therefore, appropriate? 🙂

Profile photo of william
Member

Something similar to the Shaw Taylor Police 5 but warning of scams etc. Simple law that it must be aired on all channels but at different times of the day. Which/Action Fraud/ trading Standards etc should have plenty of material for hundreds of 5 mins programmes. And don’t forget radio as well.

Most channels have numerous 5 mins slots for ads during the day, taking up as much at 20 mins per hour. So missing ad revenue from 1 slot won;t cost them too much.

Member
dieseltaylor says:
13 May 2016

As many know I am hot on charity problems and as we have seen some charities have been content to swap donor lists. We have also had an NHS recommended pharmacy selling tailored lists to at least one off-shore lottery selling company, [Not mentioned by Which?]

I was looking at a charity/company yesterday which has been under inquiry by the Charity Commission since September 2014 without any resolution so far. Hospice Aid UK uses a fund-raising company, seemingly incorrectly named in the Accounts as Euro DM Ltd, which charged around £567,000 to raise roughly 10% more than that. After expenses etc the donations to hospices was £29,306.

This charity should not be confused with Hospice UK which is a much larger and well-respected organisation. However you can see how people may be confused.

Perhaps the Consumers’ Association Ltd should talk more to the Charity Commission. Perhaps this is an area where mobilising its resources and perhaps more importantly its members resources could do a power of good.

Everyone likes to think their donations, subscriptions, and legacies is going 100% towards the stated aims of the charity – less of course any entirely necessary expenses. Any charity that falls well short of that should be highlighted to the benefit of the more effective charities in the same area.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

Age UK is an example of a charity that got its commercial and charitable activities “confused” (energy deals as one example). They were reprimanded by the Charity Commission.

I think charities should keep their funded activities (subscriptions/donations for example) and their commercial activities totally separate and remember what their aims are. In the case of Age UK, the aim should be to protect the interests of the aged, not make money out of them by selling uneconomic, profitable products. Other charities have, I suspect, similar issues.

Member
dieseltaylor says:
13 May 2016

You are quite right malcolm. However their arrangements with Stannah and for mobility scooters seems to have been ignored. I went right off Age UK reading the arrangement.

For the Hospices I was upset at the name similarity ND also any charity where about 5% of the money raised ends up at the destination would fit my definition of a scam.

Lord knows what the Charity Commission need in the way of guidance on the matter.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Weren’t Age UK fronting a funeral plan scheme? I thought that was a bit out of order, but it shows how far the sector is going, like Which?, in lending its good name to commercial products that might not be the best on the market and undermining public trust in the organisation.

There seem to be a growing number of look-alike charities these days with similar sounding names. A number of long-standing and honourable charities , like Cancer Research UK, have attached the UK label to their name and I can only presume it is order to distinguish themselves from charities that operate [and raise funds] in the UK but deliver their benefits in foreign lands. However, I am dubious about some of the organisations suffixed ‘UK’ and believe some of them are raising money in the UK to provide charitable relief in other parts of Europe with perhaps a small amount going to people from that country based in the UK. Charity collection bags [delivered and collected by unheard of intermediary companies] seem to be their preferred method of getting donations; they don’t seem to have shops, or places where they provide services to their target clients, or any other physical presence, and their websites are vague or uninformative. There is not necessarily anything illegal taking place but there is a risk that people are taken in by their appeals thus taking away the ground of the established charities which are demonstrably doing good work here. There are plenty of good UK charities who openly appeal for funds for their work overseas so we don’t need impostors.

Member
andyr says:
10 January 2017

Hospice AID UK registered with the charity commission in 2002 and have never changed their name . Help the Hospices “REBRANDED” to Hospice UK in 2014 . This has caused massive confusions and begs the question why did Help the Hospices change their name with massive rebranding costs using public money to a name so similar to a charity with similar aims? No respect from me and others will hopefully see through Hospice UK and its sneaky and nasty tactics to try and dispatch a charity that actually does give money to hospices and doesn’t make them jump through hoops to get funding!!!

Member
Ian says:
17 May 2016

“Heartless scammers …” …

Is there any other type?