This is the final act of Citizens Advice Scams Awareness Month 2016.
There are so many examples of scams to recount here and many ways in which they can happen. They have been a common subject of conversation at Citizens Advice Sedgemoor!
We have broken them down into four main kinds:
- Telephone Scams ;
- Online Scams ;
- Mail Scams ;
- Doorstep Scams.
Some clues that it may be a scam:
- Scam Clue 1 – Won’t let you call them back
- Scam Clue 2 – Pressure to decide quickly
- Scam Clue 3 – Too good to be true
- Scam Clue 4 – Winning – without buying a ticket
- Scam Clue 5 – Unexpected contact
- Scam Clue 6 – Don’t tell anyone
One in ten people have now fallen victim to scams which has resulted in a loss of £5 billion a year.
The average loss to investment scams is £20000 !
Scams are big business and crime has moved online.
Older people tend to be targeted more often and we should be alert to the potential vulnerabilities of older members of our families.
When we have been scammed, we tend to be embarrassed and to want privacy. But the most useful thing we can do is to report it – or to report attempts and suspected scams – to Action Fraud at 0300 123 2040 or www.actionfraud.police.uk. You could also call Victim Support on 0808 1689 111 or www.victimsupport.org.uk.
For more on scams have a look at www.thinkjessica.com.
We are just coming to the end of Big Energy Saving Week. We are trying to raise awareness of the possibilities. Sedgemoor Citizens Advice is calling on people in our area to swot up on switching energy supplier and, where possible, help an older relative or neighbour find a better deal. Online searches are the main way Brits find the best energy deal – over three quarters (78 per cent) of us would use an online site to switch, yet only 13 per cent have actually taken the time to help an elderly person to find a better deal.
And we are starting to apply ourselves to the problem of Rogue Landlords and Rogue Letting Agents. If you have a problem with renting property, this might be a good place to start: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/housing-fact-sheets/ But we are beginning to identify the names of landlords/agents who crop up repeatedly with our clients.
Citizens Advice Sedgemoor Research and Campaigns Team are currently working on three themes.
First up – Loan Sharks. As Payday Loans companies seem to be less of a problem, so Loan Sharks are a growing concern, especially in the run up to Christmas.
Loan Sharks are unlicensed and/or illegal lenders. They may use harassment, violence, sexual assault and blackmail if payments are missed. They will lend to anyone and likely to require repayments of at least twice the original amount. This may link with other criminal or even terrorist activity.
The majority of loan sharks’ victims are unemployed, female, in receipt of benefits and in rented homes. They are likely to have tried to borrow elsewhere first and often have other debts.
It is a bad idea to use a Loan Shark because:
- The interest rates which may be more than 100%
- The loan may result in harassment, threats or violence if repayments are missed
- There may be pressure into taking out more loans to pay off the first.
- There is no paperwork and the lenders are not licensed.
- Your money may be laundered for use by organised crime.
We want to raise awareness so that people aren’t tempted to use Loan Sharks and we would encourage any enforcement action.
We are also working on Affordable Housing – which seems to be a growing problem in our area, especially in rural parts.
Next up – Living Wage issues – a cross Somerset campaign in collaboration with the Living Wage Foundation.
Research and Campaigns at Sedgemoor CAB
We are currently working on some problems encountered by migrant workers in Bridgwater. Forty migrant workers have sought advice from Sedgemoor Citizens Advice Bureau. Migrant workers have moved to the area and are being employed by agencies to work for big companies in Bridgwater.
The initial group of clients had their employment terminated after 12 weeks. This meant that they had no employment rights protection and the main area of enquiry was benefit advice to enable them to return home.
Several clients had their employment terminated when they reported into work sick, at least three clients were not paid for when attending training days. These issues seem to disproportionately affect migrant workers.
Our experience also shows that when their employment situation goes wrong, all they want is to find a way to get home rather than stay and take legal action.
We have contacted the employers directly and raised these issues with them. We have had some success with this approach and have noticed that the issues have reduced.
We are hoping that in the light of the information that we are collecting, recruitment companies should be more transparent about the successes of employment in other countries and that consideration should be given to what would happen if that employment ended suddenly.
Our thoughts are turning to Flooding again.
We are watching the Environment Agency Flood Warnings at http://apps.environment-agency.gov.uk/flood/34678.aspx?page=1&type=RiverAndTown&term=burrowbridge
Last year we saw five flood victims who had no insurance. We know that insurance is expensive; and with any luck you pay the premium and nothing happens. But now is the time to decide: don’t be uninsured by accident.
A new scheme (see https://www.abi.org.uk/Insurance-and-savings/Topics-and-issues/Flooding/Government-and-insurance-industry-flood-agreement/The-future-of-flood-insurance) will offer some help with reinsuring properties – capping the cost from April next year. Not perfect, but better than nothing.
We want to see some controls on building new homes that are exposed to the risk of flooding.
We applaud the work done so far on improving defences by the Environment Agency.
We would like the local authority to establish an Information Centre – to help victims of any Emergency know where to go, what to do, how to start getting back to normal, and maybe most importantly – how to contact neighbours and family who are caught up in the Emergency.
It seems important to bear in mind that maybe the next Emergency won’t be flooding; but the lessons we have learned can help us deal with it.
This is Big Energy Saving Week – a joint campaign with the Energy Saving Trust and the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Last year 80000 people sought help with fuel debts in the UK.
We think that households could save £75 a year – which amounts to £146.1million a year across the south west !
Thoughts for the Week:
CHECK – Are you on the best deal ?
SWITCH – Try an accredited switching website to see if you could get your energy cheaper elsewhere.
INSULATE – things like cavity walls, loft insulation, double glazing and upgrading a boiler could save hundreds of pounds a year.
Citizens Advice Bureau can help.
And we are campaigning for a fairer deal for prepay
- a smarter offer that works for consumers
- a fair choice of tariffs in line with other payment methods
- better customer service and support with easier top-ups.
Find out more about the campaign – and sign the petition at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/fairprepay.
We have been campaigning on the subject of Payday Loans for some time. Since April the industry has been regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Last week Wonga wrote off £220million of customer debts where loans had been made to customers who could not afford to repay them. They will also be required to pay £226million in compensation to customers who were chased by reference to lawyers’ letters. We can’t claim all the responsibility, but that feels a bit like a result.
There is a general election coming and now seems like a pretty good time to talk to our local candidates. I tell them what we do (advice and campaigning), and tell them what our concerns are. So if you see headlines about Employment Support Allowance issues, ethics in business (especially relating to migrant workers), or homelessness (particularly where it is linked to prison release), we can have a nice warm feeling.
Following a recent development, we are investigating some issues with migrant workers and agencies and big employers in Sedgemoor.
If you think about it, migrant workers are particularly vulnerable. We think that they should be made aware of the risks as they sign up, and that they should be treated as the law requires – and the same as everyone else.
Current interests for the Social Policy Team at Sedgemoor CAB ?
We are noticing that a big proportion of people who are homeless in the area have recently been released from prison. We are researching the numbers and talking to the Probation Service in more detail.
We also have more instances of migrant workers in Bridgwater who have all sorts of employment problems. We will focus on the worst of the employers, researching the evidence and considering how best to influence current and future employment practices.
We are Tweeting on all sorts of subjects @SedgemoorCAB_SP, including the Citizens Manifesto 2015 http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/the_citizens_manifesto2015.htm
By all means contact us further if you are interested in helping by signing petitions and/or writing letters.
For 75 years, the Citizens Advice service has provided free, confidential advice and influenced decision makers to make a lasting difference for our clients.
We need support from the public, and in turn from local and national government, for our work to continue.
Help us highlight the value of the Citizens Advice service and increase awareness and support among the public and people who make decisions by signing our pledge.
Last year in Sedgemoor we saw 5441 clients with 7452 problems – this seems to be increasing at a rate of more than 15% a year. There are about 40 of us, mostly volunteers.
If you are really enthusiastic, we accept donations – or you might even want to consider volunteering some of your time.