A 77-year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer from Leeds has been fleeced out of an estimated £750,000 in junk mail scams going back more than two decades, it has been revealed.
The elderly widow is thought to have paid out up to £200 a week in response to bogus lottery competitions and prize draws over the course of 27 years.
Her family is now warning relatives of other vulnerable people to be vigilant about the tactics of organised fraudsters.
Paul Metcalf, the woman’s nephew, wants legislation to stop such scams.
He said his aunt, who he does not want to identify, had been systematically targeted by fraudsters often operating overseas.
“I feel absolutely gutted for my aunt,” he said. “There needs to be legislation to stop these people.
“They are nothing more than scammers.”
Mr Metcalf, 52, discovered what had been happening to his aunt, who lives alone, after a neighbour contacted him to raise concerns about the amount of mail she was sending.
He said: “I went to see her and we uncovered thousands of these letters.
“You could tell that she’d responded to a lot of them, because she’d written ‘sent’ on them.
“Some of them look so official – like solicitors’ letters.”
The woman is thought to have received up to a dozen letters a day from bogus groups running fake competitions.
Along with the letters, Mr Metcalf found eight used chequebooks with stubs showing that £5,000 worth of cheques had been written over the course of a few weeks.
“I was devastated,” he said.
“The really sickening thing is that once you reply to one of these letters, they put you on what they call a ‘suckers list’ and sell on your details to everybody so that they can do the same thing.”
The matter is now being looked at by Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and internet crime reporting centre.
It has also been reported to West Yorkshire Trading Standards, which is investigating.
Experts say the people behind such scams are almost always based outside of the UK, remaining untraceable and living luxurious lifestyles – in stark contrast to their victims.
They say many victims do not realise they are involved in a scam and are often unwilling to accept it or tell anyone about it out of embarrassment.
David Lodge, head of West Yorkshire Trading Standards, said: “Mass marketing scams are fast becoming the crime of the 21st century and are very carefully orchestrated by unscrupulous fraudsters whose only goal is personal gain.
“They do not care about the impact they make on their victims’ lives and often target the most vulnerable residents in our society.
“In this particular case, the scammers have targeted Paul’s aunt because she is elderly and living with dementia.
“This case is a horrific example of what can and is happening to our older and more vulnerable residents of West Yorkshire, and indeed across the UK.
“It is evident that we need to do more to make sure this type of criminal activity is on everyone’s radar all of the time so we can help those who are most vulnerable and stop shocking cases like this continuing to happen.”