A report which went before Leeds City Council’s executive committee claimed there were now 5,000 victims of so-called “doorstep crime”, in which vulnerable people are scammed for money by cold-callers, throughout West Yorkshire.
Such is the trauma and financial damage done to victims that many have lost tens of thousands in savings or had to move into residential accommodation.
A meeting on Wednesday heard how trading standards, working with the council and the police, was helping to fight back against the scammers.
Leader of Leeds City Council Coun Judith Blake (Lab) told the meeting: “I met the team and was particularly struck by the work they are doing in this area – I don’t think there is a more cynical crime than how criminals are targeting the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Leeds Conservative group leader Coun Andrew Carter added: “The words ‘exploitation’ and ‘abuse’ are correct because that is what it is. If it is allowed to continue, it leads to other consequences.”
Leeds City Council’s executive member for health and social care Coun Rebecca Charlwood said: “It really is incredible work the team does.”
The report estimated there were 340 enquiries in Leeds into financial abuse during 2016/17, followed by around 301 in 2017/18.
It gave instances of financial exploitation, which included an 80 year old retired teacher losing Â£100,000 to scammers through releasing equity in her house, shortly before being admitted to hospital and passing away.
It also told of an 88-year-old man losing more than Â£100,000 to investment fraud and timeshare scams, while an 85-year-old retired flour mill manager was scammed of Â£50,000 of life savings and subsequently had to move to sheltered housing.
The West Yorkshire financial exploitation and abuse team (WYFEAT) was set up in 2016 to help combat the problems and make people aware of potential risks. The report claims thousands of council staff have received training from WYFEAT so they can help those who may be at risk.
It added: “Recent investigations into a number of organised crime groups have identified, for example, at least 150 vulnerable victims of repeat doorstep crime related to one specific offender, others identifying numerous bank accounts aimed at money laundering and scamming victims of vast amounts of money, many over long periods of time.
“The financial abuse of vulnerable adults is something we must all be aware of, often perpetrated by those closest to us.
“This can be mitigated by educating people of the risks and strategies used by abusers. The work of the WYFEAT team illustrate the positive impact a multi-agency and multi-disciplinary approach can have and is complementary to the work already happening in Leeds to safeguard people from all kinds of abuse including financial abuse.”