Socially distanced scam support – GMP volunteers continue vital work from home

Funding support available to St Helens Borough Council local independent businesses and charities

GMP’s volunteer group – the Scambusters, have made over 1,500 calls since the start of the pandemic to vulnerable members of the community to help stop them falling victim to fraud.

In 2017, GMP’s Economic Crime Hub launched its Cyber and Economic Awareness Service (CECAS) which is dedicated to providing prevention and awareness information to the public and safeguarding victims. Part of this service is made up of a team called the Scambusters, a group of 16 mainly older and retired volunteers who aim to help stop elderly members of the community falling victim to fraud such as telephone scams, online scams and doorstep crime.

The volunteers offer peer-to-peer support to those who have been a victim of fraud by giving practical help and advice to prevent them falling victim again.
Last year, the Scambusters made calls to over 600 vulnerable members of the community and attended over 40 community events promoting prevention advice.

When the COVID-19 virus spread to the UK and the government began introducing restrictions asking people to stay at home where possible, five of the volunteer Scambusters continued their important work by carrying out their duties from home.

As fraudsters used the time of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to exploit innocent members of the public out of their hard earned money, the work the Scambusters do was vital in ensuring that vulnerable members of the community could spot possible scams and protect themselves.

Throughout the pandemic, fraudsters have used COVID as a cover story to trick their victims. Scams have ranged from phishing emails which falsely promised the victim a free supermarket shop if they clicked on the link in the email – the link would then lead the victim to a fake site, to enter their personal and financial information, to offenders posing as people from the NHS Test and Trace service to trick victims into handing over personal details.

The Scambusters have volunteered a total of over 400 hours since March 2020, attending online training and contacting potential victims via telephone to give them up-to-date fraud information and support them if they feel they have be contacted with a scam.

Les Allmark, one of the volunteer Scambusters, said: “I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people who have been affected by scams.

“Each call is different. Some calls can be very moving, especially when you speak to victims who are older or vulnerable and you see the impact that the criminals have had on their lives. Others calls can be more light hearted – but every call is important and can have a real effect on the person you are speaking to.

“Volunteering from home has brought its own challenges and I miss the interaction you get in the office environment, however we are all supported by each other and by our GMP colleagues at all levels.”

The Volunteers Coordinator, Emma Potts, said: “GMP is committed to tackling fraud, by targeting offenders and equipping our residents with the tools and information they need to avoid these scams.

“Our volunteer Scambusters are dedicated to giving their time to identifying the most vulnerable and contacting them via phone to offer support and advice against these scams.

“During the pandemic we saw fraudsters changing tac, using COVID as the cover story for their scams. The pandemic has brought challenges for many. With some of us facing financial uncertainty, the impact of fraud can have a devastating impact.

“I am proud of the way our volunteers have adapted to volunteering from home and continuing to give the vital support that they do. We hope to have another six volunteers set up to volunteer from home once they have completed their training.

“The public can stay up to date with fraud information and advice by following our @gmpfraud Twitter account. Anyone who suspects they have been a victim of fraud can report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.”

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