New figures released by Sussex Police show the extent to which elderly people in the county are being targeted by fraud.
Operation Signature is Sussex Police’s campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud.
There were 332 Operation Signature victims in Sussex who suffered a financial loss in the 12 months to the end of November 2016, according to a police spokesperson.
They lost a combined total in the region of £4.25m, the spokesperson said.
During the same period, police visited 651 vulnerable people who had reported receiving such approaches – the majority of whom were aged over 75, the spokesperson confirmed.
While 49 per cent of these people had not suffered any financial loss, for those who did, the average loss per person was almost £13,000 and the highest individual loss was £350,000, the spokesperson said.
Of those who lost more than £10,000, 28 per cent were victims of investment fraud, while 23 per cent were victims of dating and romance fraud and 20 per cent were victims of mass marketing and catalogue fraud, said the spokesperson.
Victims of investment fraud who lost more than £10,000 were more likely to be men (72 per cent), aged over 60 (92 per cent) and were most likely to have been contacted by telephone (77 per cent), the spokesperson said.
The average amount lost was £65,000.
PC Bernadette Lawrie from Operation Signature said: “Since Operation Signature was introduced, we’ve seen a massive increase in reporting which is fantastic because fraud is known to be such a hidden unreported crime. “Up until this point we had no idea of the scale of it so encouraging people to report fraud is really important.
“We’ve gone on to have some extremely positive interventions with those individuals and worked with families and carers to help turn their lives around when they were being systematically targeted and exploited.”
The Operature Signature process systematically follows up on reports that residents, especially the elderly, have received unwelcome or suspicious phone, email or personal approaches asking them to invest or seeking money in other way, she said.
Sometimes there is no evidence that a crime has taken place but, even so, police and PCSOs will visit and offer advice, including ways of resisting further approaches, Ms Lawrie said.
Police also work with local charities including Age Concern and Brighton-based Time to Talk Befriending.
Ms Lawrie added: “The good news is that so many of our residents and their neighbours are on the alert and do not fall for such approaches.”
Almost half of Sussex residents aged 65 or older, their relative or friend has been targeted by fraudsters, according to a poll by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne.
In East Sussex almost 24 per cent of the population is over 65, which is substantially higher than the national average of 17 per cent.
The proportion of residents aged over 75 is higher than any other county in England and Wales.
Mrs Bourne is hosting a summit – Listen Live: Fraud and Elder Exploitation – which aims to find out what more can be done to tackle the issue of elder exploitation.
To register for the event in Brighton on Thursday, 23 March, at the Brighton Jubilee Library from 6pm until 8.30pm, click here.
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