Thursday, 5 November 2009

Campaign targets fraudsters who prey on elderly

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Trading Standards team is throwing its weight behind a national anti-scam campaign launched in memory of a pensioner whose family blame her death on the stress of becoming a fraud victim.

The “Think Jessica” campaign sends a clear, empowering message to all NOT to allow fraudsters and con artists to take advantage of residents with their “too good to be true” promises of big money wins and exotic holiday prizes for a small outlay.

It is hoped that launching a campaign in the name of someone who fell victim to the scammers will send a clear message to others that it is not their fault, being targeted is nothing to be ashamed of and that there are professionals out there to help you hit back at con artists.

Cruel fraudsters con thousands of residents out of an estimated £3.5 billion a year with their mail-based scams, offering prizes, incredible returns and even services in exchange for a cash contribution.

One person who fell victim was Jessica Looke, who was receiving up to 30 scam letters a day and spending most of her pension on them. The situation became so bad that parts of her home were filled with piles of scam letters.

As the situation progressed, Jessica became distrustful of her own family, while continuing to send her money to the scams, convinced she would, one day, secure the big life-changing prize. As her money began running out, so Jessica became anxious and frail.

She died in 2007 and her family say the blame for her death has to lie partly with those scammers who targeted her mother and conned her out of so much money.

Determined to stop such a thing happening to others, Jessica’s daughter, Marilyn Baldwin, launched the Think Jessica campaign with the Trading Standards Institute, which went nationwide with thousands of posters being placed on billboards across the country, stating the message “Scam Mail is Blackmail”.

The posters include a new free advice line 0800 848 88 55, sponsored by British Gas, with a message recorded by Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis. The campaign is also supported by Paul Wilson, who has conducted numerous scams on television’s The Real Hustle.

Cllr John David, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Trading Standards, said: “For too long, scammers have been getting away with conning millions of pounds out of residents who send money in the belief they have won a prize or are procuring a service.

“Many of these residents are elderly or vulnerable and I hope this hard-hitting campaign from the Trading Standards Institute and the brave family of Jessica Looke helps us all to have the strength to say no and report the necessary information that could lead to offenders being brought to justice.”

Cllr Mike Forey, Cabinet Member for Health and Older People, added: “The family of Jessica Looke should be commended for the way they are helping others to be aware of these heartbreaking scams.

“It is a sad fact that many elderly, vulnerable or isolated people are targeted by scammers and they have nothing to be ashamed of by coming forward and reporting what has happened.

“We are here to help and support them and ensure they do not send any of their much-needed money to such criminals who are, by the way, the ones who should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.”


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