Local Democracy Reporter
Stuart Minting at 5:14pm 12th March 2020.
A local authority which serves an area with a large elderly population is examining measures to increase awareness of internet-based crime and other scams that target vulnerable people.
North Yorkshire County County Council’s executive is to consider a proposal to utilise the hundreds of parish and town councils in the area to spread details of prevalent and emerging types of crime facing residents.
They said local councils could do much to “normalise” being a victim of scams, which many people were too ashamed to report, leading to criminals being able to continue their offences.
Councillors have also called for lines of communication between residents and the council’s trading standards to be ramped as people were struggling to find contact and report frauds to organisations such as Action Fraud and national consumer helplines.
Jim McCluskey, of the authority’s trading standards, told the council’s Thirsk and Malton constituency committee a key element of the authority’s response to scams and e-crime was awareness raising.
“Unfortunately, we are being bombarded in this area. We try and do work with communities and signpost people to self-help.
Many of these offences can be committed without information technology, but the increase of the scale, impact and reach of the offences has exploded through the use of computers.
Within North Yorkshire, possibly with the demographics and also some rural communities, there is a greater vulnerability to these crimes.”
Mr McCluskey said common cons residents were being hit by included software service offers, “too good to be true” discounts, deceptions on shopping sites, ghosts sites which charge a premium for a services offered on government websites, information harvesting and “West Africans 419” phishing for bank details.
He said offenders behind romance frauds on dating websites targeted vulnerable victims and related how a woman from Ohio had contacted him after handing over $14,000 to help a North Yorkshire man who had supposedly been arrested by Middlesbrough Council.
Mr McCluskey said:
“The best thing is to take a step back and take your time. Think ‘hang on, why am I sending this money?’ and trust your instincts.”
Members said the most vulnerable people to such scams were lonely elderly people, and that some of the victims were aware they were being conned but simply wanted to talk to someone.
Councillors said the situation was being exacerbated with banks shirking their responsibilities by ignoring unusually large transactions and agreeing huge unsecured loans for elderly people.
Malton councillor Lindsay Burr said:
“People feel embarrassed to say they have been scammed. It seems as though you have done something wrong and you haven’t. We need to know to stop this happening. ”
Councillor Gareth Dadd, the authority’s deputy leader, added:
“It’s not about money, it’s about getting that message out. There’s a lot of elderly people who know they are being turned over, but they are too embarrassed to say. It’s like mental health, some years ago people would never talk about it because it was shameful.”