Neighbours of an elderly Buckinghamshire resident have been described as ‘Scams Heroes’ for alerting Trading Standards officers to doorstep rogue sellers pestering her as often as three times a week.
It is thought that Iris [name changed to protect identity], who has dementia and lives by herself, has been victim to roof work scams for around five years - and has been conned out of an estimated £5,000 in that time.
Sadly, says Buckinghamshire and Surrey Trading Standards, Iris's experience is not an isolated one - and the authority says it is working to crack down on rogue traders who target the elderly.
Last year (2016/17) more than 100 doorstep crimes were reported, mostly targeting older and more vulnerable people, and the highest value being a £20,000 roofing fraud in Gerrards Cross. But the figure could be much higher, as it's known only around 10% of cases are actually reported. There is a much higher cost though in terms of the distress caused to vulnerable people who just do not know where to turn for help.
Which is why Noel Brown, Buckinghamshire County Council Cabinet Member for Community Engagement would like more neighbours like Iris's.
And at the start of national Scams Awareness Month, Noel is launching a training programme for Scams Champions - residents who are willing to look out for their vulnerable neighbours, know the early signs of exploitation, and alert the authorities.
Scams Champions are trained to provide information and awareness raising sessions about doorstep crime, postal and telephone scams to community and business groups, schools and other agencies. This helps them to spot the signs that someone is being scammed and know how to report any suspicions that someone they know is in thrall to scammers.
Already Trading Standards have signed up five Scams Champion volunteers. One of them, Tom Dent, has already done the training.
Tom, who is currently helping Trading Standards in the south of the County to protect a number of scam victims who have collectively lost over £1,000,000, said: "It's a real eye-opener on the devious ways of doorstep criminals, and really does prepare you to identify the early tell-tale signs."
Noel said Buckinghamshire needed Scams Champions to help protect vulnerable people and make a big dent in the estimated £4,000,000 a year they are being scammed out of.
"This isn't just about saving money. Where Trading Standards officers can intervene early, it can reduce the distress victims often feel" said Noel. "Last year, our officers managed to save them well over £255,000 [£200,000 scams and £55 doorstep crime], but you can't put a price on feeling safe in your in your own home - and this is where the Scam Champions can really help."
All of which is welcome news for Iris, who would get knock after knock at the door, around 2,000 scam letters every year, and phone call scams every day from companies believed to have got her details from a catalogue company before data protection legislation.
Thanks to her neighbours, and Trading Standards support, Iris now has special measures to help protect against rogue sellers as well as helping her to protect herself independently. Which include a CCTV camera and call blocker.
With these, her trusted neighbours, and a tight-knit supportive community, Iris has harmony back in her life - and at very low risk of being scammed again. “I feel safe and confident now I know I’m brave enough to say 'no thank you'," she said.
Scam Champion training has so far been scheduled on July 27 (1pm to 4pm) at Beaconsfield Fire Station; August 10 (1.30-3.30pm) at Haddenham Fire Station;
September 5 (1.30-3.30pm) at Gerrards Cross Fire Station; and October 10 (1.30-3.30pm) at Haddenham Fire Station.