Police have today (Tuesday) launched a crackdown on fraudsters targetting vulnerable people across North Devon.Read more about how to protect elderly relatives, what to do if you are a victim, and hear a call to police from one Holsworthy woman targetted by conmen.

Police are clamping down on international fraudsters conning elderly people in North Devon out of hundreds-of-thousands of pounds - as they say the region is ‘no longer open to scammers’.

Operation Jessica was launched today (Tuesday) as it was revealed £637,687 was scammed from vulnerable people in the region since May 2014 with 35 different offences reported - and even more still undetected.

The operation hopes to target those individuals who are most vulnerable, and educate them to ensure they don’t get caught out.

Think Jessica

The operation is supported by the charity Think Jessica, founded by Marilyn Baldwin OBE, whose mother Jessica was bombarded by more than 30,000 fraudulent letters over five years.

Criminals have masterminded a range of ways to steal from the old and vulnerable, with many of the phone calls and letters at first appearing to be legitimate.

They could claim to be from the bank with a PPI claim; an IT assistant calling to ‘fix’ your computer; a clairvoyant promising your luck will come if you pay them off; or a lottery official claiming you have won millions-of-pounds.

North Devon victims

One man from Barnstaple, who wished not to be named, paid out £9,000 last year when someone claiming to be from the police called saying his grandson was in prison and he had to pay up for his release. “I felt like a fool,” he said.

In Holsworthy, a lady lost £110,000 when she sent it to someone on an online dating site.

Another 92-year-old who attended the launch said she did not realise the clairvoyant she had been sending money to in Canada was actually a scam.

And by clicking the audio link below, you can also hear one call to police from a woman in Holsworthy who was scammed by someone claiming to fix her computer.

Everyone can make a difference

Detective Inspector Praveen Naidoo, of Barnstaple CID, said the conmen often target people through phone lists readily purchased.

“This operation is about getting there right at the inception of it” he said. “We need to get to these people before they are brainwashed.”

DI Naidoo also warned the money is often used to fund terrorism or human trafficking,

How to spot a victim

In liason with Trading Standards, police have identified 340 people across the region who may be a target of fraud.

They are working to directly contact everyone on the list.

So far they have contacted 77 people and identified several who were being scammed.

Officers urged people to look for signs in elderly friends or relatives, such as piles of ‘junk’ mail or repeated phone calls.

These could include:

• Increased phone activity

• Piles of mass marketing mail

• Authentic scam mail from banks and building societies

• Charity or religious scams

• Debt recovery agency letters

• A loss of disposable income – for example, selling a car, valuable items, etc

• Letters claiming a large inheritance

• Letters from clairvoyants

• Catalogues selling potions and pills and promising prizes in return for sales

What to do

If you think someone is vulnerable and likely to become a victim of fraud, or you spot any of the signs above, you can seek help.

Identify a family member who can look out for that person.

You can contact Action Fraud and should also contact the police on 101 with as much information as possible.

If you receive a fraudulent call, you should hang up and wait at least five minutes before ringing the police off the same number.

Alternatively, you should call police on a different phone line - a neighbour or mobile - as the caller may leave the line open.

Members of the fire brigade, Age Concern, carers, community nurses and domestic cleaning companies all attended the launch today to learn more about how they could help.

“Everyone can make a difference and raise the resilience,” added DI Naidoo.

Anyone who thinks they have been a victim of fraud can contact police on non emergency number 101. For more advice visit www.northdevongazette.co.uk

Listen to the audio clip (below) to hear one woman’s call to police when she realised she had been a victim of fraud.