Tried and tested scams still pose huge threat, says Citizens Advice

Long-running scams such as unsolicited doorstep selling and cold calling are continuing to cost victims an average of almost £3,000, Citizens Advice has warned.

Last year, the charity received more than 11,000 complaints about “more traditional” scams – overwhelmingly from older and more vulnerable people – with victims of postal scams suffering the highest average loss of £5,435.

Despite the rise in online scams, Citizens Advice found that 58% of all scams reported were through well-established methods, with fraudsters apparently targeting older people.

A total of 19,500 scams – offline and online – were reported to the charity’s consumer service in 2018, an 8% increase on the year before.

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A survey for the charity found six in 10 people (61%) reported being targeted by a scam in the past two years. Of those targeted, less than half (48%) told anyone about it.

One victim, a 70-year-old woman from West Sussex, was scammed by two men who knocked on her front door and offered to fix her roof and clean her gutters.

She said: “Since my husband passed away I’ve not kept up with work on the outside of the house – that was always his job. So when two men knocked on my door saying my gutters needed cleaning and roof tiles needed replacing urgently I agreed, and handed over £520 in cash.

“When they said they were finished I went to look at their work but one distracted me by saying he’d give me a certificate for a 10-year guarantee. But when he went to the van to get it, he just drove off. I looked at the gutters and I could still see the weeds, and nothing had changed with the roof. I was clearly scammed.

“The worst part was that it didn’t seem, or feel, like a scam. They looked professional and said they’d completed work on my neighbours’ houses.

“People need to speak up about this sort of thing. Had I known the warning signs of scams – like being asked to pay up front in cash – alarm bells would’ve rung and I’d have thought twice about handing over my money.”

Citizens Advice and Trading Standards have launched their annual Scams Awareness campaign to encourage people to talk about their experiences and look out for others.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Tactics like doorstep selling, sending unsolicited letters and cold calling give scammers the opportunity to build a relationship with their victim. Unfortunately, it’s usually more vulnerable and isolated people who are affected.

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“The gap between the number of people recognising they’ve been targeted and those actually speaking up it about shows the importance of this Scams Awareness campaign. We must work together to combat fraudsters by being more open about scams and helping each other understand what to look for.”

Leon Livermore, chief executive of Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said: “With newer, more sophisticated scam techniques often dominating headlines, it’s easy to forget that ‘tried-and-tested’ scams are still out there, and are just as dangerous as they have always been – especially for the most vulnerable within society.

“Through campaigns like Scams Awareness, and initiatives like Friends Against Scams, we can inform and arm consumers with the power to spot potential threats, so they know where to turn if they need help.”

Consumer Minister Kelly Tolhurst said: “Our consumer protection regime is one of the strongest in the world and we are committed to making sure people are aware of their rights.

“Scams, such as those highlighted in this campaign that target elderly and vulnerable people, must not be tolerated, and I would encourage people to speak up if they have fallen victim to a scam or know someone who has.”