Police and trading standards officials have teamed up in response to recent cases like that of an 83-year-old Leeds pensioner with Alzheimer’s, who lost their £786,000 life savings after being targeted in a mass marketing fraud scam.
The West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team aims to investigate and prevent scams carried out by doorstep criminals and fraudsters using phone, post and email, but also abuse committed by members of the victim’s own family.
Age UK warned recently that the country’s ageing population resulted in a steep rise in the number of older people with dementia and other cognitive problems who were at risk of financial abuse.
Women in their 80s living by themselves are said to be at the highest risk of being targeted, and the charity says scams committed by people unrelated to the victim are an increasing problem.
The team, made up of specialists from police, adult social care and trading standards operating from the same site, was launched in October.
It is working on cases including an investigation into a crime group operating across the North of England, selling shoddy double glazing services for exorbitant prices and targeting the elderly.
The task force was involved in securing convictions against West Yorkshire company directors Robert Morrison and Paul Towers, who used sick and vulnerable pensioners as “meal tickets” in a scam which netted them more than £2m.
The pair were jailed after they used heavy-handed tactics to pressure dementia suffers and the blind into handing over cash for sub-standard work.
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson, who helped fund the unit with £109,000 from his budget, said it was “already making a real difference”.
He said: “The awful consequences of targeting people for financial exploitation and crime is all too clear and it’s particularly important that we protect and support those that are most vulnerable, which is a key priority in my new Police and Crime Plan.
“Crimes such as these can have a really detrimental effect on the victim and their quality of life going forward.
“This team will protect people from these heartless criminals, help to bring the perpetrators to justice, fully support victims and reduce repeat victimisation.”
Nationally there are an estimated 170,000 doorstep crime incidents, with only five per cent being reported, and 2.5 million people fall victim to scams each year.
Age UK has warned that banks need to take more responsibility for scams carried out using bank accounts opened with them.
The charity said last year that banks deem the customer to be at fault if the scammer has tricked them into authorising a transaction.
Director Caroline Abrahams said it was important “that we develop practical tools for organisations, not just in the financial sector but in health and care too”.
She said this would “help staff who engage with older people to be alert to cognitive decline, the consequent risks of financial exploitation and abuse, and how best to prevent and tackle them”.