Speaker line-up announced for Sussex PCC’s crime summit


A number of high-profile speakers will be joining Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne as she hosts her first Listen Live crime summit in Brighton to tackle elder exploitation.

Louise Baxter from the National Trading Standards Scams Team and Phil Mawhinney from Age UK will be on the panel along with Laura Flack from Barclays and Moneygram’s Keith Sharp. They’ll be joined by Chief Superintendent Lisa Bell from Sussex Police and John Wright MBE, Chair of the Sussex Neighbourhood Watch Federation.

“By bringing together representatives from policing, charity, government, banking and Neighbourhood Watch, we aim to propose solutions to the very real problems of fraud and elder exploitation here in Sussex,” says Mrs Bourne.

“In East Sussex almost 24% of the population is over 65 which is substantially higher than the national average of 17%, and the proportion of residents aged over 75 is higher than any other county in England and Wales.

“We know that criminal gangs are deliberately targeting our older residents because they may have substantial savings and can be more trusting.

“Sussex Police’s Operation Signature has seen huge success helping to protect our older residents from those who seek to rob them of their life savings and potentially of the ability to look after themselves.

“We want to find out what else can be done to prevent this epidemic of elder exploitation.”

The Sussex Elders’ Commission, set up in 2015 for older residents to support, challenge and inform the work of the Sussex PCC, has been working with Sussex Police to find out more about the scale of the problem.

In the 12 months to the end of November 2016, 332 Operation Signature victims in Sussex who suffered a financial loss lost a combined total in the region of £4.25m.

During the same period, police visited 651 vulnerable people who had reported receiving such approaches (the majority were aged over 75) and 49% had not suffered any financial loss.

Of those who did lose money, the average loss per person was almost £13,000 and the highest individual loss was £350,000.

Of those who lost more than £10,000, 28% were victims of investment fraud, 23% were victims of dating and romance fraud, 20% were victims of mass marketing and catalogue fraud, 9% were victims of courier fraud, 8% were victims of telephone fraud, 8% were victims of rogue trader fraud and 3% were victims of computer fraud.

Victims of investment fraud who lost more than £10,000 were more likely to be men (72%), aged over 60 (92%) and were most likely to have been contacted by telephone (77%). The average amount lost was £65,000.

“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,” says PC Bernadette Lawrie from Operation Signature.

“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 Op Signature process systematically follows up on reports that local residents, especially the elderly, have received unwelcome or suspicious phone, email or personal approaches asking them to invest or seeking money in other ways. Police, PCSOs or Victim Support workers will visit and offer advice, including ways of resisting further approaches. 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.”

JeanAmong the members of the Sussex Elders’ Commission is Jean Holmwood (pictured right), 67, from Heathfield, who fell victim to an online fraud in 2013.

“I felt pathetic. I like to think of myself as being quite on top of things, especially when it comes to computers and the internet, and that’s where I went down. I was quite disgusted at myself, embarrassed,” she says.

“It was only a small amount, it might not have been much for some people but it was a lot for me not having much money in the world.

“It’s just degrading, it’s an insult to your intelligence and you feel so stupid. I don’t mind telling people about what happened to me because I’m hoping it will help others, but at the same time most people wouldn’t want to tell anybody because they just feel silly.”

RobFellow member Rob Mills (pictured left), 76, from Westmeston, also warns of the effect fraud against older residents is having in Sussex. “It can be devastating, the cases that we have heard of recently involve massive financial loss. Somebody who is elderly, their resources have run out… what do they do? The money is gone, their house is gone: it could be life-ending,” he says.

Listen Live: Fraud and Elder Exploitation takes place on Thursday, 23 March, at the Brighton Jubilee Library from 6pm until 8.30pm. To register, please visit bit.do/listenliveelderfraud  

Notes for editors

To interview Katy Bourne ahead of the event, contact Ellie Evans on 01273 337781 or email Elinor.evans@sussex-pcc.gov.uk

For further details on Operation Signature, please contact Tim Mahony at Sussex Police on 01273 404173 or email Tim.Mahony@sussex.pnn.police.uk

A recent poll on the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner’s website found that almost half of Sussex residents aged 65 or older, their relative or friend had been targeted by fraudsters. You can read more here.

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