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Cumbria County Council's trading standards will be cracking down on scam correspondence next month with a Scamnesty campaign, where the public are being encouraged to drop off dodgy letters or emails at collection points dotted all around the county so they can be properly investigated.
The drive against scammers will run throughout the month of February and is aimed to raise public awareness of the perils of engaging with companies or individuals who prey on some of the most vulnerable people in society. Scams can take many forms, from fake lottery and prize draw wins, to miracle health cures or ‘get rich quick’ investment cons.
Information collected at the designated bins can help trained trading standards officers obtain valuable intelligence which might assist in preventing more people becoming victims. As well as scam mail which drops through the letterbox, people can also put their scam emails into one of the collection boxes, or alternatively they can report scam emails online at www.actionfraud.org.uk/scam-emails. Consumers can be assured that all material will be treated in confidence.
Cumbria Trading Standards also supports the ‘Think Jessica’ poster campaign. The campaign is named after a particularly tragic victim of scam mail. Jessica Looke was in her 70s when she was first scammed into believing that she had won large cash prizes. Her name was put on a 'suckers' list, by the scammer who sent the first scam letter. This meant that her details were sent to criminals all over the world. No one could convince Jessica that the 30 letters received every day were scams, and soon she was sending nearly all of her pension each week to keep up with their demands. It is believed that Jessica sent thousands of pounds to the scammers over five years. Jessica's daughter Marilyn Baldwin, was left horrified watching her mother suffer at the hands of criminals. Jessica sadly died aged 83 and needless to say never received the windfall she was conned into believing she would get.
Jessica's death certificate said the cause of death was pneumonia - but Marilyn blames the mental torment the scammers inflicted on her over the years for damaging her health.
Cumbria Trading Standards hope that the Scamnesty Bins and Think Jessica posters will raise awareness of postal scams and are advising people to think before sending money to claim fake prizes from bogus lotteries, competitions and catalogues. The poster is also designed to appeal to the families of victims and directly to the victims themselves so that they recognise that what they are doing is responding to a scam.
Angela Jones, Cumbria County Council's Trading Standards Manager, said:"Scam mail can leave people in debt and misery and many of the victims are particularly vulnerable, for example those with age-related declining mental health and dementia, the recently bereaved or people who are socially isolated or over trusting. The cost to the victim can be thousands of pounds, but the emotional effects can be even more devastating. People need to be aware that scam mail can be very convincing and scammers can be very smart – we want Cumbrian residents to prove they’re smarter and bin the scam mail."
Cllr Gary Strong, Cumbria County Council's Cabinet member responsible for trading standards, said: "I support this Scamnesty campaign and urge residents to help protect vulnerable neighbours or relatives from scam mail. If someone you know is receiving large volumes of scam letters or mail then report the matter to trading standards or the police and help disrupt these criminals who prey on our communities."
For general consumer advice contact Consumer Direct on 08454 040506 or to report a fraud contact Action Fraud UK on 0300 123 2040.
Local drop off points will be situated in the following locations throughout February:
Kendal – Morrisons, Queen Catherine Avenue. Asda, Burton Road. Kendal Library, Stricklandgate. Age UK Shop, Finkle Street.
Windermere – Age UK Shop, Main Road.
Ulverston – Booths, Oubas Hill.
Millom – Tesco, Lancashire Road.
Dalton – Co-op, Market Street
Barrow in Furness - Morrisons, Strand. Age UK Shop, Abbey Road
Grange Over Sands – The Library, Grange Fell Road.
Carlisle – Morrisons, Kingstown Road. Tesco, Carlisle City Centre. Coop, Wigton Road. Civic Centre. Age UK, Carlisle.
Penrith – Morrisons, Brunswick Road.
Cockermouth - Sainsburys, Station Road.
Egremont – Coop, Main Street
Whitehaven – Morrisons,Flatts Walk. Age UK, Lowther Street.
Workington –Tesco, Derwent Howe
Keswick – Age UK shop