We're now part of the York & North Yorkshire Combined Authority

3 February, 2017

Protecting ourselves against fraud

If it seems to good to be true - it probably is. Crime is changing and we all need to learn new skills to keep ourselves and each other safe.

Those of us involved in keeping people safe are getting used to the police’s mantra that ‘crime is changing’. But for the majority of us, crime is not something that sits top of mind and we don’t necessarily see how ‘crime is changing’. We tend to think of crime in transitional terms – a spate of burglaries along a street or in more rural areas, criminals going farm to farm stealing quad bikes.

Of course unfortunately these things do happen, but make no mistake, crime is changing. Last month, for the first time ever the government included fraud in the official crime statistics and we saw the sheer scale of that change. The numbers revealed four million ‘additional’ crimes in one year alone, and they are just the ones the police know about.

Often hidden in plain sight, fraud has very quickly become one of the biggest and most common threats to each of us.  Sadly, the story gets worse.  Home Office research shows that here in North Yorkshire we are particularly vulnerable.

It will be no surprise to learn North Yorkshire has a higher than average older population, and those older people are, relatively speaking, wealthy. What’s more, given that the average age for a victim of fraud is 75, it is no wonder that criminals see North Yorkshire as potentially lucrative.

And whilst by no means are all older people vulnerable, many are in one form or another. For example, they may  have a medical condition, or be very trusting or feel isolated and alone. But in truth, age is only one factor. As soon as you think ‘it couldn’t happen to me’ you become vulnerable.  Lower your guard at your peril.

I tell you this not as a means to scare you (North Yorkshire is thankfully the safest county in England), but to make sure you are aware of the threats around us. To make sure you know how to keep yourself safe, and importantly, how we can better look out for each other.

Scam, racket, swindle, con. Fraud comes in all shapes and sizes: committed by post, telephone, via the internet and in person. But all have the same hallmarks, and armed with the right information, we can take action. For example, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  If your elderly loved ones have told you they have won a prize or lottery, ask for more detail.  If someone has formed a new long-distance relationship, ask them about it. If there has been a big uplift in the amount of post your mum receives, check they’re not scams.  And never, ever give out personal or security information via emails or phone calls you have not yourself made, even if they look or sound genuine.

Top tips to keep safe? Don’t rush into anything, if in doubt say no, if unsure don’t open the door, never give your personal information to anyone who you don’t know and always ask for a second opinion.

Awareness is key, which is the reason for this blog. But I want to do more, which is why I am supporting the fantastic Friends Against Scams initiative being run by Trading Standards, and is something everyone can get involved in.

There are seven Friends Against Scams awareness sessions in all, taking place in Harrogate, York and Scarborough, in the first week of February. Each session will provide an overall awareness of scams as well as the skills and resources allowing you to become a SCAMchampion and run your own awareness sessions for the people you care for, colleagues, friends and neighbours. The latter is what I am particularly excited about. Sharing the means to protect each other is crucial, and please do take this opportunity to learn to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

If you want to know more about the Friends Against Scams initiative, or attend one of their workshops go to the Friends Against Scams website.

My final thought, please look out for your friends, family and neighbours, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable.  But don’t forgot about yourself.  We are all potential victims, so keep on your guard.