Saturday, January 28, 2023

Black Friday / Cyber Monday: Helping Harlow residents become ‘fraud savvy’ and looking after victims

FRAUD is increasingly becoming a part of daily life but Essex Police is working hard to make sure people are protected from scams as much as possible.

They have three fraud prevention co-ordinators working across Essex whose aim is to prevent frauds from happening by educating people and raising their awareness – if you are ‘fraud savvy’ you are less likely to become a victim.

And they also help to safeguard vulnerable victims who may be susceptible to further attempts to trick them out of money or personal information.

Tammy Blest says: “It is surprisingly easy to fall victim to even simple frauds because we are so busy in our daily lives. If we don’t stop to read or listen to something properly and look out for the signs to tell us whether something is genuine or not then it is far more likely that we will be tricked out of parting with our hard-earned cash or giving away valuable personal information.

“So we urge everyone to Take Five to stop fraud – that’s five minutes to think about whether the request is genuine or to consult a family member or friend. It’s OK to say no and only a criminal will try to rush or panic you.”

Tammy and her two fellow fraud prevention co-ordinators are each responsible for a group of districts across the county.

  • North: Braintree, Chelmsford, Colchester, Maldon, Tendring and Uttlesford: Tammy Blest
  • South: Basildon, Castle Point, Rochford and Southend: Nikki Godfrey-Shaw
  • West: Brentwood, Epping, Harlow and Thurrock: Caroline Plakhtienko

Nikki says: “We receive details of Essex victims weekly from Action Fraud, which is the national reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime, and we identify the threat, harm and risk for each.

“We then ensure that they are offered any appropriate referrals or, for the most vulnerable high-risk victims, we will visit them and offer additional support to prevent a reoccurrence.

“And we also work closely with Trading Standards teams and UK Finance, which covers all High Street banks, to prevent bank customers from becoming a victim and to help them to look after their money.

“Banks can ring to request a police officer to attend their branch and to support their customers if they suspect the customer is a victim of fraud or someone is trying to coerce them withdraw cash.”

Anyone can be a victim of fraud, scams or cyber-crime so do keep an eye out not only for yourself but also for your family and friends. But, if you do fall prey to fraudsters, our fraud prevention co-ordinators are here to help.

Nikki says: “We are responsible for the welfare of vulnerable victims of fraud within Essex.  We look at all the risks and contributing factors to determine the course of action which offers a victim the best protection and support for their individual circumstances and visit them to ensure this safeguarding is working. 

“We also provide relevant advice and support to Essex Police officers investigating frauds and cyber-crimes.”

Essex Police, in partnership with Victim Support, is one of only three police forces to run a support group for victims of dating and romance fraud. Our fraud prevention co-ordinators refer people who have fallen victim to this intensely personal crime and work with them to help them rebuild their lives.

In 2021, there was a significant jump in reported cases in Essex with 234 victims coming forward, losing £2.3million – an average of £9,800 each – although it is widely believed that romance fraud is significantly under-reported.

Caroline says: “People who fall victim to any kind of fraud initially blame themselves, feeling stupid that they succumbed to being tricked and they can also feel a sense of shame.

“But most fraudsters are incredibly clever and they play on people’s emotions when they are vulnerable, whether that be loneliness or simply being in a rush.

“We should all talk about this type of crime more so that victims feel confident to come forward and report crimes, so we can investigate them and try to prevent other people being conned, and more confident to talk about them so others can learn from their experiences. This can also help them move on.”

Our fraud prevention co-ordinators have developed good working relationships with partner agencies and charities to promote effective fraud prevention, raise awareness of current scams, provide general crime prevention advice and point the public in the direction of further advice and support.

So they are kept very busy giving talks to various societies, Women’s Institutes, University of the Third Age groups and disability groups, together with visits to sheltered housing complexes, markets, summer fetes, libraries and, indeed, anywhere they feel the public will gain some benefit from their knowledge and expertise.

You will regularly find them at Saffron Walden Market, Epping Market and Rochford Market or attending Coffee with Cops, Street Meets and other awareness days with your district’s community policing teams.

Tammy says: “We all enjoy attending these events and talking with the public about how to prevent scams and frauds as, the more people we educate, the fewer victims there will be. And that is the best part of our job, preventing people from becoming a victim of crime.”

Talking about frauds and scams

If you are a member of a group which would benefit from a fraud awareness and prevention talk or you are organising an event which you feel would benefit from having a fraud prevention co-ordinator on hand to provide advice, then email fraud.coordinators@essex.pnn.police.uk

To report a fraud or a scam, you can do so online https://www.essex.police.uk/ro or by ringing 101. Always dial 999 in an emergency.

Read our advice on protecting yourself against fraud and scams: www.essex.police.uk/fraud

Take Five is a national campaign offering advice to help you prevent email, phone-based and online fraud: https://takefive-stopfraud.org.uk

Knowledge is power. Help stop scammers in their tracks by learning their tactics and what to do if you think something is a scam. This Friends Against Scams online learning should only take you eight to ten minutes: www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/elearning/EssexPolice

The Eastern Region Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT) supports those who have borrowed money from a loan shark and also investigates and prosecutes illegal money-lenders: https://www.stoploansharks.co.uk/who-we-are

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