Leicester councillor's aunt lost thousands to conmen in final months of her life
A Leicester councillor, whose aunt was fleeced of tens of thousands of pounds, wants to raise awareness of conmen who target the elderly.
Former Leicester City Council leader Ross Willmott launched the campaign after discovering his aunt had been swindled out of the money in the final months of her life.
Coun Willmott said he was shocked and angered to discover his 83-year-old aunt, Carmel Hoffman, had been sending up to 10 cheques a week to so-called "advance fee" swindlers.
The widow had been responding to large amounts of mail from Europe, promising her huge lottery wins if she paid up-front processing fees.
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In 11 months, more than £40,000 was drained from Mrs Hoffman's bank account, leaving her to borrow cash to pay off her overdraft.
Coun Willmott said: "From my aunt's bank statements you could see she was paying up to £1,000 a week.
"It was distressing to discover the extent of it because she was an able and intelligent person who was systematically targeted and exploited by fraudsters.
"The kind of things we are talking about are letters saying you have won £1.5 million. We will pay it to you if you send us £50.
"Of course, there was no £1.5 million. The cheques would be cashed and everything else would go in the shredder.
"Her cheques, and those of many others, are basically paying for someone to drive around in an expensive car in the south of France."
He said his uncle Leonard had died the year before his aunt.
"It is worrying to see that the requests for money increased after he died," said Coun Willmott.
"I think he was a brake on it but afterwards she got carried away.
"The psychology of these people is very sophisticated – they get victims to believe in it despite what anyone else tells them."
Mrs Hoffman, who lived in London, died at the end of 2011, but Coun Willmott only discovered the fraud at Christmas after lengthy discussions with a solicitor about her financial affairs.
He has reported the matter to Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud and internet crime reporting centre.
He said: "After my aunt's experience, I started doing some research on this and was staggered to discover the scale of fraud.
"Literally billions of pounds a year are being stolen from some of the most vulnerable people."
This week, the council's adult social care and housing scrutiny commission, on which Coun Willmott sits, agreed to start preparation work for an awareness campaign across the city.
Coun Willmott said: "There have been campaigns before where billboards have gone up and other publicity but I'm not sure how effective they are. As a council, we could raise this at ward and community meetings.
"We also have contact with elderly and vulnerable people who we could write directly to and perhaps name some of the organisations involved in the hope that people do not fall foul of them."
The council's director of adult social care and safeguarding, Ruth Lake, told the commission she would look at ideas for a campaign and report back to them. Leicestershire Age UK director Tony Donovan said there had been many reports of scams in the county targeting the elderly, often widowers or widows.
He said: "Often lists of names and addresses of victims are sold on so people get many of these postal offers that are too good to be true. Never part with any money until you have a product in your hand."