An 80-year-old in need of a life-changing operation has been conned out of more than £55,000 after becoming the victim of cruel foreign lottery scammers.
The pensioner has been receiving up to 60 scam letters a day from companies all over the world promising a prize in exchange for a sum of money or the purchase of one of their products.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s trading standards officers in Hartlepool have issued an urgent warning about bogus prize winning letters and phone calls following the tragic case of the Hartlepool pensioner who has lost at least £55,000 over the last fifteen years.
The Mail has today published a sample of the letters sent to the vulnerable pensioner, who lives near the town centre, in the hope that others won’t get conned.
Officials say some companies have been promising large cash prizes for a number of years with ‘just one more purchase needed’ before it can be paid.
The widower, who has not been identified for his own protection, said: “I was hoping the promises that I had won a lot of money were true as I have a problem with my legs and was hoping to have an operation to allow me to walk properly again.”
The issue came to light when one of the man’s relatives found a letter from The council’s Trading Standards Team among his unopened post.
Trading standards officers have been contacting local people who had been identified by the National Trading Standards Scams Team as potential scam victims and it was the discovery of this letter that led to the identification of the scale of this man’s problems.
Ian Harrison, the council’s trading standards and licensing manager, said: “Cases like this are absolutely shocking and heartbreaking. Elderly and vulnerable people are entitled to live in peace and feel secure and should not be preyed on by unscrupulous companies that care for nothing other than making as much money as they can.
“Elderly people often trust what they read and believe someone who says that a jackpot or other prize is just around the corner. Despite this man paying over £55,000 he has never won a prize and from my many years experience I am certain if he paid another £55,000 he still would not.”
He added: “This man was writing so many cheques his bank was sending him two cheque books at a time so I will be speaking to both his bank and the Post Office to see what more can be done to help stop this happening to anyone else.
“While the amount of money that this man has lost is truly awful, the circumstances in which it has happened are sadly too common. “Once money has been paid to claim a prize, victims feel compelled to pay more so as to recover what has already been paid. In some cases, this cycle can go on and on for years.
“These tragic situations are often happening in silence and where the victim does not realise the true extent of what is happening to them. I would urge anyone who knows an elderly or vulnerable person to ask them about letters or phone calls they receive and to register them with both the Telephone and Mailing Preference Services as this should significantly reduce the volume of incoming scam letters and phone calls.
Anyone concerned about a scam should call the council’s Trading Standards Team on (01429) 523362 or email: trading.Standards@Hartlepool.gov.uk
‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’
Mass-marketed scams are believed to cost as much as £5bn.
The figure was revealed during Scam Awareness Month in July which was aimed at consumers getting together with the help of their representative organisations, including the Citizens Advice service and Trading Standards.
It was about consumers refusing to be rushed by scammers, refusing to be hushed into silence by a sense of shame, foolhardiness or weary acceptance.
Key messages from the Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Hartlepool Borough Council’s Trading Standards included; if it sounds too good to be true it probably is; if in doubt, don’t reply; don’t be rushed - resist pressure to make a decision straight away; never send money to someone you have never met and you should not have to pay anything to get a prize.
Hartlepool CAB manager, Joe Michna said: “New scams appear all the time and these include scams related to pensions, investment, dating, subscription traps and courier scams.
“Working with other organisations such as trading standards it is our intention during Scam Awareness Month to alert and warn people of the dangers that can be involved in being sucked into a scam.
“Sometimes the impact of a scam can be ruinous: a lifetime of careful planning and saving wiped clean in the space of a telephone conversation, at the stroke of a pen, in the click of a mouse. However, we are here to help.”
Advice is available from the CAB on 01429 408401, the Citizens Advice Consumer Advice Service - 08454 040506 and Action Fraud on 0300 1232040.