Trading Standards warning scam re prize draws and lotteries

Published Thursday, 12 January 2017

Trading Standards are warning residents to be aware of the pitfalls related to responding to prize draws and lotteries. They are also encouraging residents to raise the issue with family members or friends who may be particularly vulnerable.

The advice follows an incident where Bromley Council's Trading Standards team were alerted to the plight of a vulnerable resident who has been tricked into parting with almost £10,000 in order to receive large cash prizes promised in fictitious prize draws, and by making donations to numerous charities leaving her struggling to pay for her most basic needs.  

Investigations are continuing but the matter came to light in December when the very worried elderly lady contacted a distant relative and told him she only had about £200 left in her bank account and was struggling to pay her rent. On looking into the matter further the relative was very concerned about Iris (not her real name), her finances and her general well-being and contacted the Social Care team.  

The Trading Standards team were then alerted by social workers who had recently received training from the Trading Standards team.  Social workers had recognised some of the signs of someone suffering from being scammed or suffering financial abuse.  This included large amounts of mail, boxes of creams and perfumes, cheap jewellery and numerous tins of biscuits and pots of jam all which indicated a classic case.  

In addition, bank statements revealed that not only had Iris been spending vast sums each month on unwanted products, she had been donating to up 10 different charities each month, with one month’s donations totalling in excess of £400, including six separate direct debits to the same charity!  This represented a considerable proportion of her monthly income, leaving little money for food, heating and other essential expenditure.  

Councillor Kate Lymer, Executive Councillor for Public Protection and Safety said: “This is a tragic story and I am mostly concerned at the amount of payments Iris was making each month to charities. I am pleased this has stopped but we now need to challenge those organisations as to why they targeted a vulnerable older woman. Officers from Trading Standards and Adult Social Services will now concentrate on supporting Iris, in an effort to prevent her from becoming a victim again. They will approach local organisations who may be able to provide some ongoing support e.g. Age UK, and local voluntary groups.”  

Councillor Lymer added, “We will not be releasing further details at this time but we do want to use this example to highlight the dangers and to encourage us all to talk about this with those people who are known personally to us who may be targeted in this way.”  

When Trading Standards officers visited Iris they found the lounge, bedroom and hallway were overrun with scam mail and goods that had been purchased in order to obtain the winnings of fictitious prize draws.  The situation was one of the worst seen in Bromley and was causing Iris considerable anxiety, not being able to pay her way nor having room to move around in her home.  

With her agreement, Trading Standards officers and family members cleared her home of the scam mail and purchased items, just in time for Christmas. 

Iris’s purchases were reviewed and over 250 personal care products had been purchased at overinflated prices by her since January 2016.  They included “luxury” shower gels, foot care, food supplements, perfumes, soaps, joint creams, anti-ageing products and beauty serums. Some products were purchased more than 10 times each and all were unopened and unused.  

Iris also purchased many other multiple items for the home, jams, biscuits (26 tins), blankets, scarves, clocks, soft toys, handbags, ornaments and 35 pouches containing cheap jewellery/lucky charms. 

Scamming is increasingly recognised as a form of financial abuse and the elderly and vulnerable are being particularly targeted.  It is estimated that 3.2 million people fall victim to scams each year losing £3.5billion to these criminals with less than 5% of people reporting being scammed. 

Further information about Trading Standards and rogue traders is available by visiting www.bromley.gov.uk/tradingstandards

Residents are also advised they can contact Bromley’s Trading Standards team by e-mail at trading.standards@bromley.gov.uk especially if it is known that someone may be a victim of a scam. 

For a victim of a doorstep crime who needs immediate assistance, the trading standards rapid response contact is 07903 852090. 

ENDS

For media enquiries, please contact Andrew Rogers, Communications Executive, on 020 8461 7670 or email andrew.rogers@bromley.gov.uk