Scamming the Elderly – Good Business?

The indefatigable George Monbiot has run an article describing how an elderly acquaintance was scammed by a dodgy damp-proofing rort ( and how, in spite of having all the evidence in hand, he was unable to provoke any action by the relevant trading standards authority. The dedicated police unit, Action Fraud he found to be similarly inert. In fact, in spite of fraud being by far the worst crime problem facing the community, funding for the bodies responsible for bringing scammers to justice has been cut so badly in recent years that the crooks have a virtually free run. The police have even quantified it: lose less than £100,000 and you’re on your own.

It got me wondering. It can’t just be about saving money – the public are much more concerned about fraud than they are about hate speech, but at last count there were six hundred staff working the specialised police hate crimes unit. This government has flung austerity out the window, spending money like water, but in yesterday’s Queen’s speech not a word about what is probably the worst crime wave ever to affect the general public.

It was in the first paragraph of Monbiot’s piece that I found what may be a clue. The scammer had a card machine with him and his victim paid up, in full, immediately. What impunity, to put the money straight into his own bank account. But what about that money? It must have been thousands of pounds, sitting in a bank account, doing nothing, frugally hoarded by the anxious pensioner. Where would it be now, had not Monbiot galloped in on his white horse and monstered the guy into a refund? Perhaps to an installment on the guy’s new electric Jag. Or a series of nights out on the town, nothing but the best for our scammer and his pals. Every pound of it clipped for the government’s share in VAT. Assuming the man paid his taxes, more of it off to the exchequer at the end of the year.

Can it be that the Tories actually think that this epidemic of defrauding pensioners is a good thing? I mean, we are not Bhutan. Our national accounts don’t have a column for communal happiness. We don’t have to look far to discern this government’s disregard for human misery. How many billions, I wonder, have all those millions of my coevals got salted away awaiting the stroke of a bank card across the fraudsters’ machines? Awaiting their liberation into the free-spending economy? Last year it totalled £193 billion. That’s right – £193,000,000,000. That is a massively significant amount of freed-up cash.

When this first occurred to me I thought of it as a piece of whimsy but having realised the scale and consequences I’m not so sure. Coming here from New Zealand I was struck by the simply appalling absence of consumer protections at every level. The BBC has a couple of astonishingly tame consumer issues radio shows, in which the smiling, agreeable presenters regularly let companies off the hook by not only parroting “Nobody from Company X was available to come on the programme” but actually then reading their press releases for them in which they invariably declare, unchallenged, that it was all just a regrettable mistake and won’t happen again. If the company reimburses the single individual it has ripped off the presenters seem to regard that as a happy outcome, leaving the company to go on doing the same thing to thousands of its customers. When I was on the air in NZ, balance was achieved in such situations by offering both sides of a conflict space on the programme to put their viewpoint. If they declined, then that viewpoint did not get put. End of. They usually showed up. Not here. Why should they when they can have the consumers’ champion do their work for them?

The UK is a rip-off artist’s paradise and absolutely nothing is being done about it. Well, it gets the money going round, doesn’t it? Got to be a good thing …

It’s not negligent. It’s deliberate. And, as Monbiot points out, whom do those angry victims vote for? The party that beats the law ‘n order drum loudest – the Tories, the very charmers letting the crooks off the hook.

Caveat emptor, as never before.


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