Northern Ireland

Scams victim who lost £100,000 joins police campaign

Erika Image copyright ScamwiseNI Initiative
Image caption When she did not have enough money left to pay, Erika said scammers persuaded her to take out a £15,000 loan which she is still paying off

A woman who lost about £100,000 as a result of telephone fraudsters has shared her story as warning to others in a new scam awareness campaign.

Identified only as Erika, she said she was targeted by firms who asked her to invest in wine and jewellery, but then began demanding thousands in cash.

Erika has appeared in a video as part of the ScamwiseNI Initiative - a joint campaign by the PSNI, the Department of Justice and the Policing Board.

They said many victims are elderly.

According to estimates from the Consumer Council, more than 300,000 people in Northern Ireland have been the victim of scams over the past three years.

The ScamwiseNI Initiative urges people to familiarise themselves with the various ways fraudsters try to access their money, including doorstep sellers, email fraud, unsolicited texts and cold callers.

Sharing her experience, Erika said: "It all started with me buying some fine wines.

"I felt quite proud about it, you know, me as an investor."

She was then contacted by other "firms" who tried to sell her more items including diamonds and gold.

Image caption The campaign included a four-step scam test which police say should help the public identify fraudulent requests

The scammers then began "demanding money" for tax and storage.

"Every time they asked for money, I would pay out," Erika said.

When she did not have enough money left to pay their demands, the scammers persuaded her to take out a £15,000 loan.

"I'm still paying that off," she said.

"If, by doing this, I can just save one person from falling for these scams, I think I'll have done a good job."

'Embarrassed'

The PSNI said their latest campaign was a response to the Consumer Council's figures and a "rising number of scams being reported".

However, Ch Supt Simon Walls said: "It's very hard to be definitive about the level of scamming because one of the problems, we think, is there are high levels of under-reporting of scams.

"The Consumer Council estimates that 17% of the population of Northern Ireland [314,840 people] have been scammed, and that's a huge amount.

"There are other studies that suggest 21% of the older population have been scammed."

Image caption Ch Supt Simon Walls said scams were an under-reported crime

He added: "Our experience is that some scammers will target elderly people, lonely people and vulnerable people, and our experience also is the impact on those members of society - those that maybe have small amounts of money or fixed incomes - the impact of a scam can be much greater on them."

Policing Board Chair Anne Connolly said many people "feel more embarrassed about being duped than angry at being robbed" but she urged victims to come forward.

"Many people who are scammed feel they are to blame for falling for it, but it's not their fault. If you have - or know someone who has - been a victim of fraud, no matter how small, you should report it to the PSNI or Action Fraud."

"Scams are cruel and can have a devastating effect on victims," Justice Minister Claire Sugden said.

"The attackers often target the elderly, but the reality is that no one is safe from the threat of their, often sophisticated scams."

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