A NATIONWIDE network of rogue traders is preying on dementia sufferers in Yorkshire amid warnings the campaigns of exploitation will become more wide-spread as mental illness among the elderly is expected to soar.
Organised criminal gangs have begun to turn their attention to the rising number of pensioners who are suffering from mental illness in a callous attempt to avoid detection due to their victims’ failing memories.
The Yorkshire Post has learnt victims in the region have paid up to £250,000 to offenders who have duped them out of vast sums of money for repairs to roofs and driveways and for gardening.
Victims end up paying for shoddy repairs or for work which has not even been carried out to their homes. There is evidence of fraudsters travelling from as far away as the South-West of England, the Home Counties and the Midlands to target specific properties in Yorkshire after details of vulnerable residents have been passed on in a blackmarket trade between offenders.
Trading standards officers confirmed they are involved in an increasing number of cases involving concerted campaigns against dementia sufferers.
North Yorkshire County Council’s trading standards officers are involved in five separate major inquiries where victims suffering from mental illness have been targeted.
The head of fraud and financial investigations, Ruth Andrews, said: “These are well-organised operations which prey on some of the most vulnerable people in society. In my eyes these offences are just as despicable as some forms of sexual abuse, with offenders grooming their victims, who are often trusting members of society and are easy to exploit.”
But resources are coming under increasing pressure amid the Government’s savage austerity drive. The budget for the West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service, which covers Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield, was £3.2m in 2010/11, although funding is expected to have been slashed by £481,000 by 2014/15. A spokesman said the reduction equates to £708,000 in real terms.
Hull Council’s trading standards unit had a budget of £895,000 in 2010/11 with 25 full-time staff, but the funding has been cut to £710,000 in this financial year with just 17 full-time employees.
The Alzheimer’s Society has predicted an estimated 99,424 diagnosed and undiagnosed dementia sufferers in Yorkshire will rise to 125,356 by 2021. It is thought there will be 1m sufferers nationally within eight years.
North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for adult services, Coun Clare Wood, said: “There needs to be a co-ordinated approach by the authorities, but communities also need to be aware and report suspicious activity. People suffering from dementia can live happily in their own homes with the right help. But all the good work is so easily undone by the actions of rogue traders.”