/ 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
Guest
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.

Guest

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.

Guest
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.

Guest

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.

Guest
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!!!

Guest
Ian says:
17 May 2016

“Heartless scammers …” …

Is there any other type?