DOORSTEP criminals estimated to have stolen £100m from dementia patients have sunk to a new low by trading the identities of Alzheimer’s sufferers, it is claimed.
The victims are then targeted by one gang after another of rogue traders – who are laughing all the way to the bank while the victims are left penniless.
The conmen often wear high visibility jackets, put flashing lights on their vans, and set out traffic cones to fool frail pensioners into thinking they are dealing with reputable firms.
The old travellers’ ways of leaving secret signs around homes have been replaced by sophisticated networking using mobile phones.
The gangs have found rich pickings in the rising number of Alzheimer’s sufferers – stinging some for up to £250,000 each, investigations in Yorkshire have revealed.
Campaigners say the callous attempt to avoid detection owing to victims’ failing memories is a “chilling” new twist to the scourge of Britain’s elderly.
It is feared a nationwide network of rogue traders is already waging a campaign of exploitation which will get worse as mental illness soars among the ageing population.
One hotspot has been North Yorkshire where victims have forked out up to £250,000 each for botched repairs to roofs and driveways and for gardening or work to homes which was not even done.
Doorstep villains have been travelling from as far away as the South West, the Home Counties and the Midlands to prey on pensioners who planned a dream retirement in Heartbeat Country.
Trading standards bosses say they are targeting specific properties after details of vulnerable residents were circulated on a booming black market between offenders.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Rogue traders have sunk to a new indefensible low by sharing the details of people with dementia they have scammed with other criminals.
“This chilling new development deals yet another blow to vulnerable people who are already facing high care costs and a society that fails to understand their needs.
“The Alzheimer’s Society’s report, Short Changed, found that over 15 per cent of people with dementia have been victims of financial abuse, being cheated out of at least £100m.
“Co-ordinated action is urgently needed at a national and local level involving trading standards, police and safeguarding to offer enhanced protection to people with dementia,” he said.
North Yorkshire trading standards officers have five separate major investigations on their books where victims suffering from mental illness have been targeted.