Crime may be down overall, but as a gang is held over allegedly scamming 140 vulnerable people, vigilance and care is still key.
However, theft from persons is the one crime that has increased by 8%, since 2011. I can only ascribe the acceleration of this type of crime to one cause – the volatility of our economy during this long and acerbic recession. I saw this same phenomenon occur during the Great Depression, when some, out of desperation to make ends meet, resorted to theft as a means of survival. Yet, today there is also a more worrisome class of criminal whose larceny continues irrespective of economic cycles.
They are the professional predators whose prey is always the weak, the vulnerable and the gullible. Older people in our society are most at risk from those who, either through intimidation or fraud, can ransack a senior's life-savings in a matter of minutes, hours or days. Last year, the Insolvency Service detailed a list of 78 companies that defrauded senior citizens out of £28m. More recently, the Guardian reported that Essex police have arrested 16 individuals on suspicion of befriending up to 140 vulnerable people and scamming them out of more than £1m.
When it comes to being a victim of fraud, the elderly, the disabled or any other vulnerable person can be easy prey. These criminals are experts at gaining the trust of lonely souls and manipulating that relationship to steal the victim's money. Professional fraudsters latch on to their quarry by manipulating an individual's need for companionship. They ingratiate themselves into their victims' good graces by pretending to be a friend who can assist them with repairs to their house or car, for example. They assure them that the cost will be a fraction of what a normal builder or mechanic would charge.
For a senior citizen on a fixed income the offer of help at a substantially reduced rate can sometimes be a temptation too great to resist. Unfortunately, once the victim pays his or her deposit, the work is either not done or is so substandard that it requires a professional to fix the job. Generally, the victim never reports that they have been a victim of fraud to the police because they are too ashamed of their own gullibility.
Sometimes the ruse plays upon a person's desire to make a profit from an outlandish investment proposal. Other scams involve telling a victim that they have inherited a fortune from a distant relative. Some are even conned by being told that they have secured the winning prize in an obscure lottery, but have to pay a tax on their winnings.
Perhaps the most troubling type of financial abuse of the elderly is when it is committed by a family member who is in charge of their relative's care. These crimes can be straightforward theft of assets but can also include physical and emotional abuse. To discover that your caregiver has abused your trust and love is a heartbreaking lesson to learn at the end of a hard-worked life. For seniors who have suffered the crime of abuse or financial fraud the emotional hurt is profound and crushing.
Still, we must remember that, although abuse and fraud against older people is a tangible threat, most of us will live through our old age unscathed. However, those who are elderly must try to remain vigilant against potential fraud. It is better to be safe than sorry, or, as my mother was fond of saying, "I don't have a grammar school education but I can spot one scoundrel". Remember – if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Moreover, if you believe that you are being defrauded, don't be afraid or ashamed to contact your local police station, GP or bank manager.
Fraud and financial crimes are reprehensible, but when they are committed against weak and vulnerable seniors, it becomes a despicable and vile act. However, it is possible for everyone in this country to do their part to prevent abuse against seniors. All of us have to keep a friendly eye out for our neighbours because one day they may return the favour for us. As my mum once said to me in youth when I was impatient to leave her company: "It costs you nowt but time to have a cuppa with your mum."