Alison Farrar

Why I’m so passionate about scams.

By Alison Farrar, National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team.

I have been dealing with scam victims for 15 years. I started as Consumer Advice Officer at Anglesey Trading Standards and soon realised that criminals have a huge range of ways to steal money from people who rarely reported these crimes. I used to receive phone calls from family members who were desperate to find a way to help their loved ones, and discovered that the scams were having a negative impact on the physical and mental health of the victims. One scam victim in particular affected me quite strongly – an elderly man living alone was being constantly targeted. The criminals had persuaded him they were coming to his home to present him with a huge cheque and the phone calls demanding fees up front for this caused him so much stress that he suffered a heart attack while the Police and I were trying to help him stop the calls. His family were devastated and didn’t know how to help. I encouraged him to bring his scam mail into the office every day so that we could help him open the post and identify which were scams and which were genuine letters. He had a full carrier bag each day and would have lost a further £7,000 if he’d responded to every letter in that first month. Gradually we got the scam mail down to almost nothing. We helped change his phone number and encouraged him to join some local groups to help him make friends.

Because of this experience, I spent a lot of time building local referral networks within Adult Social Care, Community Mental Health teams and many relevant charities, offering training and assistance to home carers, case workers and managers. This was soon expanded to include the Police, Local Safeguarding Board and working with the Older Person’s Commissioner on the Wales Against Scams Partnership.

As Lead Officer for Wales Heads of Trading Standards and for the Charted Trading Standards Institute (CTSI),  I have worked on many projects including Scam Awareness Month and National Consumer Week, all aimed at raising awareness about the impact of scams including doorstep crime. I believe the best way to warn people about scams is to encourage everyone to talk about them, and discuss how to keep ourselves and others safe. I’m so pleased to see the Friends Against Scams (FAS) campaign gaining momentum, because I believe that spreading the word is the best way to combat these criminals. I was one of the first to register as a SCAMchampion on the Friends Against Scams website, and have delivered the training to many groups including over 50’s clubs, youth groups and even my local Assembly Member’s staff, as well as speaking on radio and TV about current scams. I’ve been working on Welsh language versions of the FAS material and have been involved with the Wales Against Scams Partnership in organising a summit which will take place on 28 September as part of the Wales Week of Action.

I passionately believe that talking about scams, encouraging people to report every nuisance call, warning people on social media about fake voucher posts and generally bringing the subject into the open, is the solution to the scams problem. Most of us will receive a number of scam attempts every now and then, but just occasionally there will be a time when we might be vulnerable, and maybe fall into the criminals’ trap. The more of us that talk about these experiences, the easier it will be to put a stop to them. It only needs someone to come forward with a piece of evidence that will help catch these criminals and it will have a massive impact on so many people’s lives.