Gang scammed £1m from elderly and vulnerable

Police station, Essex

Sixteen people have been arrested in connection with a fraud that had been targeting the elderly and vulnerable in Essex. It is thought that 39 people were tricked out of up to £1 million in the scam.

So how did they persuade people to part with so much money and how can you protect yourself?
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The Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate launched an investigation in December after reports that a gang was cold-calling people in Essex. The investigation revealed that between 2009 and 2013 the gang were calling round at the homes of people aged between 65 and 99, persuading them into becoming victims of the scam.

There have been no details on exactly what the gang was up to. A typical rogue trading scam involves an individual calling round, saying they are in the area, and then either offering to do work on a property, or scaring a homeowner into thinking there is something wrong with the property that needs urgent attention. Once they have a foot in the door, there are a variety of methods they can use to inflate the price from the original estimate, so they can take their victim for every penny they can.

Charges

Sixteen people were arrested in Epping, Colchester and Clapton yesterday. Seven of them face charges ranging from fraud by false representation, to blackmail and conspiracy to conceal criminal property. Six people will appear in court today, one more will appear in July, and the remaining nine have been released on bail pending further enquiries.

Gary Beautridge, Essex Police assistant chief constable, said in a statement: "Over the past seven months my officers have been investigating a series of cases which appear to be the work of an organised crime group taking advantage of the elderly and vulnerable and exploiting them for criminal gain."

"The offences we are looking at basically amount to the financial abuse of the most vulnerable members of our society. The evidence would suggest that these vulnerable people have been groomed and then preyed upon by a group whose sole intention appears to be to line their own pockets."

Essex County Councillor Roger Walters, cabinet member for Trading Standards said: "The arrests today demonstrate that we will not tolerate the unacceptable and abhorrent behaviour of those who prey on the most vulnerable members of our community."

Protect yourself

If you think you may have fallen victim to a rogue trading scam, or you are worried about a family member, neighbour or friend, then your first port of call is Trading Standards, on their national helpline 08454 040506.

If you are thinking of having some work done, then the best advice is to steer clear of cold callers at all costs. They may seem to offer knock-down prices, but there are hundreds of ways to inflate an estimate once you have committed to using someone to work in your house.

Instead, it's far better to use an approved trader. The National Consumer Advice service has a guide on how to choose a tradesperson, which you can get by calling 08454 040 506. You can also get a list of approved traders from Trading Standards or by calling 08454 040506.

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Gang scammed £1m from elderly and vulnerable

If, like many Britons, you have failed to save the cash you need to maintain a comfortable standard of living in retirement, one option is to sell your home and downsize to a smaller property, using the money leftover to cover your living costs.
If moving out of the family home is too much of a wrench, however, the good news is that equity release schemes allow you to stay in your house or flat while still using the equity built up in it to provide some extra cash. The downside of the schemes, which work a bit like mortgages, is that you may not have much left to pass on to any children or other relatives.
But that's a small price to pay for a reasonable standard of living. For more information, try Age UK on 0800 169 6565.

Choosing the right annuity can have a significant impact on your retirement income. And as with most pensions, you automatically have what's called an 'open-market option' (OMO), you can scour the market for the highest annuity rate.
It is worth checking what your pension provider is offering first, though, as some companies offer guaranteed rates for existing customers that are likely to beat those available elsewhere. The Pensions Advisory Service on 0300 123 1047 is a good place to get some free advice.

On retirement, most people convert their pension fund into a guaranteed income annuity that pays out the same amount every month for the rest of their lives.
However, you can also choose an increasing annuity that pays out smaller amounts in the first few years but offers larger payments further down the line. This may prove a wise move if the rate of inflation remains at over 2%.

It is now easier to work later in life because the "default retirement age" has been scrapped.
People approaching retirement age and worrying about money can therefore choose to work for a few years longer - potentially transforming their financial situation. Other than the extra income from working, these people can look forward to higher state pensions, and higher annuity rates due to their greater age.
They can also benefit from bigger tax allowances and the fact that they no longer have to pay National Insurance contributions. Check out this nidirect website for more details.

You could get a much better rate with an impaired-life annuity if you have a medical condition that is likely to reduce your life expectancy.
Incredibly, even snoring, which is a common symptom of Sleep Apnoea could have an impact.
According to figures from MGM Advantage, a man with this condition could receive an extra £12,000 retirement income over the course of their retirement - or £571.44 extra money each year. Click here to find out more.

To maximise your retirement income, it is vital to ensure that you are receiving all the benefits to which you are entitled. These include the basic State Pension, and in some cases, the additional State Pension.
If you are on a low income, you could also qualify for the guaranteed element of Pension Credit, while those with some savings may get the savings element of this benefit. For more information about these and other benefits such as the Winter Fuel Payment, click here.

Many older couples rely on the pension income of one person - often the man. Should that person die first, the other person can therefore be left in a difficult position financially.
One way to prevent financial hardship for the surviving person is to take out a joint life annuity that will continue to pay out up to 67% of the original payments to the surviving partner should one of them die.
The disadvantage of this approach, however, is that the rate you receive will be lower. Again, the Pensions Advisory Service on 0845 601 2923 is a useful first port of call if you are unsure what to do.

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