Outsmart the scammers

Launching the "Scamnesty" initiative was  Norma Johnston, assistant head of the city council's Street Scene unit.
Launching the "Scamnesty" initiative was Norma Johnston, assistant head of the city council's Street Scene unit.
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FROM bogus astronauts stuck on space stations to ticketless ticket touts, scamsters of all kinds are the target of a month-long “Scamnesty” campaign.

Trading standards officers at the council, housing firm gentoo and charity Age UK are calling on Wearsiders to help them in the war against fraudsters.

Pictures Martin Bostock.'St Georges Day celebrations in Lytham.'Children from Lytham C of E school.'''sgeorge

Pictures Martin Bostock.'St Georges Day celebrations in Lytham.'Children from Lytham C of E school.'''sgeorge

Sunderland City Council and its partners have set up collection points for scam mail and leaflets across the city, and want residents to dump their bumpf in the boxes to help gather evidence against unscrupulous operators.

Richard Reading, principal trading standards officer at Sunderland City Council, said scamsters targeted the most vulnerable in society and preyed on people’s circumstances.

“There’s a hook, then there’s a cost,” he said. “According to the Office of Fair Trading, about seven per cent of people actually report scams.

“If people are just binning them it’s fine with us, but we would like to know because the more information we can get on the people behind them, the more we can to about it.”

He added: “Last year’s campaign helped us create a clearer picture of how many people in Sunderland had been contacted in this way, and the nature of the scams.

“We know the vast majority of people don’t report being contacted, so taking part in the Scamnesty campaign is not only a great way of raising public awareness of the problem but also of encouraging more people to come forward.”

Experts say older people are particularly vulnerable to scammers, with more older people being taken for more money compared to younger people.

Mr Reading said to make matters worse, those that were hit ended up on a “suckers list” to be targeted by further scams.

He said some scams used may seem unbelievable, but it was a multi-billion-pound industry.

The Scamnesty campaign recorded 6,000 scam mail-ins across the county, with an estimated one in 15 people falling victim to fraud worth a total of £3.5 billion to scammers.

The nationwide campaign was launched in 2009, and Sunderland took part for the first time last year. The operation in Sunderland identifies 64 distinct scams from all over the world, originating in Australia, Canada, Malta, Spain and the Netherlands.

Mr Reading said scams included bogus lottery wins requiring people to send release fees, “miracle” weight loss products, fraudulent event ticket sales and clairvoyants predicting dire consequences to those who failed to subscribed to their service.

One of the most unusual scams reported in Wearside, however, was literally out of this world. “It was from someone claiming to be a Nigerian astronaut who was in a space station and hadn’t been able to access his bank account and was offering a fee if someone would help him and provide their bank details,” said Mr Reading.