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Scammers stole our life savings, don't let it happen to you

 

Bangor retiree John Mills and former teacher Erika Murray, from Warrenpoint, fell victim to scammers losing tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds from their savings. Here Alison Fleming reports on a major Age NI conference taking place today in Belfast aimed at helping older people to prevent themselves from being tricked.

Three local pensioners have bravely admitted to being defrauded out of a sum which totals over half a million pounds, with one woman losing her life savings, due to scammers deceiving them with false promises of lucrative investment schemes which would bring them incredible wealth in their twilight years.

The fake schemes see the conmen luring old folk in via cold calling and texting, then asking them to sink large amounts of money into commodities such as diamonds, gold and oil among others. While some of the victims receive some money initially to fool them into thinking they are set to see profits rolling in, then the cash dries up with the scammers demanding more to cover costs such as insurance.

It's a harrowing crime worth millions of pounds annually to the heartless fraudsters who target some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and because it's under-reported by victims the true extent may never be known. Now financial fraud is taking centre stage at a major Age NI conference today in Belfast's Europa Hotel encouraging the older generation to better protect themselves, and people they know, from the crime.

The Take Five campaign aims to give control with straight-forward advice to help prevent the elderly and others being defrauded of their hard-earned cash, often saved up over a lifetime. Focusing on deceptions directly targeting customers, such as phishing, and phone and text-based scams, the move is designed to remind people that it pays to stop and think. And it's taking the time to examine whether an offer is too good to be true, which could make all the difference to those targeted, according to Duane Farrell, Age NI charity director, who says it's a growing problem.

"Our Advice and Advocacy Service hears from many older people who are concerned about scams. The financial exploitation of older people is very serious and extremely harmful and we believe that we must work together to prevent it, and reduce the numbers affected by such devastating crimes.

"Many older people who have been targeted by scams end up not reporting it for whatever reasons. They could be embarrassed, and may not want to disclose that they've been a victim, so it's possible that the number of people affected could be higher than we know.

"This event will speak directly to those who may be a target of fraudulent activity and will provide an opportunity to find out how we can keep ourselves, and older people we know, safe from potential fraud by learning five easy fraud prevention tips."

The Take Five conference will be addressed by leading fraud prevention expert Tony Blake who will lead a panel discussion with Eddie Lynch, The Commissioner for Older People and representatives from PSNI, Age NI and Trading Standards.

  • If you are concerned that you, or someone in your family is a victim of fraud, phone the Age NI Advice Service on Freephone 0808 808 7575 to speak to a specialist advisor in confidence

‘I don’t see any sort of return on my outlay of £120k’

Erika Murray, (77), a former teacher from Warrenpoint, lost her savings — which amounted to hundreds of thousands of pounds — to conmen who encouraged her to invest in gold and jewels through a variety of postal, email and telephone scams. She says:

It started in 2012, when I was buying some wines, which was fine as the people I bought from weren’t fraudsters. However they passed on my details to other firms.

I was then approached to buy some diamonds — two at £20,000 and another one for £4,000. After that, I was passed on to another firm who wanted to sell me gold and more diamonds. I did buy some gold, as it seemed a very good offer at 10% below price and the promise of the money in six months, but it never arrived.

I didn’t see any return on my outlay which was around £120,000. They were asking me to pay for VAT, tax, keeping, insurance so it all added up and depleted me of my savings.

I never really thought there was anything wrong, so when they kept asking me for payment saying I would get a large amount of money back, I faithfully paid up. I never got anything back, it all came to nothing.

I spoke to the police, but it’s unlikely I’ll see any of my money again. The officer I was working with helped me write my report to Action Fraud in London. I felt a bit stupid to say the least. On the other hand, I knew the money was lost and there was no point in dwelling on it.

I very rarely get letters now, it’s usually just a phone call and I just put the phone down and don’t reply because I know whatever they are telling me isn’t true.

The way they talk about the money, you do think you’ll get it back which is very tempting, and that’s how I fell for it for such a long time. The people behind these scams must be really evil because they turn to the most vulnerable people to get money.

They are the lowest of the low.”

‘Our elderly relative lost at least half a million pounds’

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Stay watchful: scammers can wreak havoc in  the lives of the vulnerable
 

Margaret’s* elderly relative Jack*, who is in his 90s, was scammed out of more than half a million pounds by fraudsters. She’s keen to raise awareness so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. She says:

After his wife died, Jack was targeted over the phone, thinking he was buying carbon credit shares.

We found them after his wife had died, but there was nothing more about it until we realised he had no money. He had borrowed from us, telling us all about this great investment he’d made. The loan was to be repaid after two months, but we never got it back.

We then realised there was a serious problem, but he was telling us that the money would be through in two months, then it was another two months. What he was telling us just wasn’t sensible.

There was never much food in his house and very little heat, and eventually he’d no heating at all because he wasn’t paying any bills. If he hadn’t got it sorted, I don’t think he would be alive today.

We’re not sure exactly how much he lost over the period of time he was being scammed, but it was at least half a million pounds.

It was only through the police and Trading Standards getting involved we have been able to take action.

They took over, and were dealing with a lot of other people in the same situation.

Jack had given all this money in the belief he would get over £1m in return, but he was paying more money after the initial ‘investment’ which he thought was taxes to get it back and there didn’t seem to be an end to it.

We now manage his finances so he can’t send any money.

He is such a sensible man, that’s why we find it so hard to believe.

The people who did this are the scum of the earth with no conscience at all. They don’t care whose lives they destroy.

We want more awareness of what’s going on.

It’s maddening to see what these people are doing to the elderly. If they could see the state it’s left him in and what he’s like now — he’s depressed and very vulnerable. It has ruined his life.”

* Names have been changed

‘I can never get over losing my £50k ... I live with it every day’

'I was very naive... I really wasn’t ready for what happened'

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Hard to take: John Mills was duped out of his money by fraudsters
 

John Mills (65), a retired driver from Bangor, lost £50,000 to fraudsters over a number of fake investments. He says:

As I’d never been a victim of fraud I was very naive, gullible and stupid, and totally unaware of scammers, so I really wasn’t ready for what happened. When these people come on the phone they’re so nice and plausible, and I fell for it.

They phoned me in early 2013, asking me if I’d like to invest in wine but I wasn’t interested.

Not long after that I got a call from another company about store pods and they said I’d be guaranteed 8% profit in the first two years, 10% in the second two years, then 12% after that.

I did get the money back in the first two years and I bought more store pods in Scotland, and again got paid money for the first two years, but I haven’t received a penny in about two and a half years, apart from around £400.

I would need to live to about 200 years of age to get my money back at the rate the money is coming back. They’re just white elephants that nobody wants to buy or rent.

I also purchased diamonds as an investment, and was told they’d increase in value between eight and 15% every year when I actually made a loss of about £3,000. It was the same when I invested in oil wells, I’ve got back maybe £200 over three years.

I realised I’d been scammed when I went to the Financial Conduct Authority, and they told me I wouldn’t get a penny back and that I had lost everything.

This has devastated my life. I had been comfortable with money in the bank, and now it’s all gone. These people don’t care how they leave you. They just want your money and will do and say anything to get it.

I can’t get over this, it has really distressed me and I can’t get it out of my mind.

I’m not going to starve because I have a pension, but all the comfort is gone. It has broken my heart and I can’t forget about it because I live with it every day.”

Five ways to safeguard your money

Never disclose security details

A genuine bank or organisation will never ask you for details such as your PIN or card number over the phone or in writing. Before you share anything with anyone, stop and think.

Unless you’re 100% sure who you’re talking to, don’t disclose any personal or financial details. Instead, hang up and contact the organisation yourself using the number on the back of your bank card or on their website.

Don’t assume an email or phone call is authentic

Just because someone knows your basic details (such as your name and address or even your mother’s maiden name), it doesn’t mean they are genuine. Criminals will use a range of techniques to get your details and may even say you’ve been a victim of fraud to scare you into immediate action.

Don’t be rushed or pressured

Under no circumstances would a genuine bank or another trusted organisation force you to make a financial transaction on the spot; they would never ask you to transfer money into another account even if they say it is for fraud reasons.

They will always let you call them back on a number you know is real — if they try and stop you doing this, it’s a fraudster and you should hang up.

Listen to your instincts

If something feels wrong, then it is usually right to question it. Criminals may lull you into a false sense of security when you’re out and about or rely on your defences being down when you’re in the comfort of your own home. If your gut feeling is telling you something is wrong, take the time to make choices and keep your details safe.

Stay in control

Have the confidence to refuse unusual requests for personal or financial information. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when faced with unexpected or complex conversations. Remember that it’s ok to stop the discussion if you do not feel in control of it.

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