Elderly and vulnerable in Sussex lose over £13m to fraudsters in just a year

Sussex Police says that with its ground-breaking scheme ‘Operation Signature’ it’s leading the way identifying and supporting older and vulnerable people at risk of theft and fraud.

And the local force says it welcomes the publication last week of a Report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) called The poor relation – the police and CPS response to crimes against older people.

Sussex was not one of the forces inspected for the report but Chief Superintendent Lisa Bell, older persons equality champion for the force, said: “The protection of the most vulnerable people in society is a core policing value. Our effectiveness in safeguarding adults at risk of abuse has developed over recent years and we are a key statutory partner in keeping people safe in Sussex.

“We will study this report carefully to see what further improvements we can introduce, working with partners including Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, and we will also respond to the recommendations of HMICFRS, along with every force in the country.

“There is a duty on all police officers and police staff to identify adults at risk of abuse, and we already have systems in place to make sure this happens, and that we sympathetically and diligently deal with crime against some of the most vulnerable people in Sussex.

“Meanwhile Sussex has led the way for all forces in developing ‘Operation Signature’.”

Operation Signature is the Sussex Police campaign to identify and support vulnerable victims of fraud across the county. Fraud is becoming more complex and deceptive, and much of it is targeted at vulnerable and elderly people.

The force has a process for recognising victims of all fraud as victims of crime and providing preventative measures to support and protect them from further targeting. This can include helping them to change their phone number to an ex-directory number, contacting family to suggest Power of Attorney, mail re-direction, offering them advice on call blocking devices and referring them to other support services.

For further information about Operation Signature and ways of preventing fraud against elderly and other vulnerable people see the Sussex Police website.

In the 12 months to March 31st 2019, Sussex Police recorded 1,705 Operation Signature reports. In 61 per cent of these reports the victim’s were over 75 and 63 per cent of these reports related to victims who lived alone.

A total of £13,123,981 was lost.

However 906 of the 1,705 attempts reported failed, thanks to alert residents, family members and banks.

Alongside Operation Signature a rapid response scheme by banks and local police, has prevented 442 potential victims in Sussex from being defrauded out of £3,605,477 since its introduction in 2017.

The Banking Protocol trains bank staff to spot when someone is about to fall victim to a scam and try to prevent them from withdrawing cash to give to a fraudster, after which they can request an immediate police response to the branch. A total of 38 arrests have been made so far by Sussex Police through the initiative.

The 717 calls spotted through the Protocol related to potential victims with an average age of 75. In each case police responded and succeeded in ensuring that the person did not hand any money over.

These interventions related to attempts at; courier fraud, rogue trading, romance fraud, software service, financial abuse by someone known to the person, and investment fraud.

Further valuable support comes from two case workers, funded by Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner (SPCC) Katy Bourne, and working through Victim Support, who support vulnerable victims who have been systematically targeted by criminals in this way, following up on referrals from Operation Signature.

Katy Bourne said; ““I’m very proud to have funded these case workers. They have achieved so much, offering invaluable emotional support as well as practical advice to some of our most vulnerable residents.

“It’s particularly heartening that out of the hundreds of clients they have supported, so little have been referred back to them. This really does show the valuable work they are doing to enable people to better protect themselves from future victimisation.

“It is also encouraging to see responsible financial institutions collaborating with police and other agencies to keep customers safe. I know that the Force will continue to work hard to keep up with the constantly adapting nature of cyber-fraud and raise awareness of the dangers of this crime type, particularly with older people.”

Police always advise;

  • Be wary of any calls, texts or emails purporting to be from the police asking for your personal or financial details, or for you to transfer money


  • If you are approached, or feel something is suspicious, hang up the phone and don’t reply. Then report it to Action Fraud and your bank on their advertised number.


  • Never send or give money to anyone you don’t know or trust; check people are who they say they are; don’t share your personal information; make decisions in your own time; and if in doubt phone a relative or a friend.

One thought on “Elderly and vulnerable in Sussex lose over £13m to fraudsters in just a year

  1. Working in the sector of vehicles insurance fraud and property fraud cases for the past 16 years in this country, I am not optimistic about this report radically changing much in this area of crime. It is one of those reports ( that I read when it was first released ) that accurately identifies the problems and short falls in the police. However, given the enormity and sometime complexity of fraud the police do not have the manpower, finances and time.
    Also bear in mind cases are asset on percentage of be solved and a conviction along with the time and money factor. People reporting fraud will be directed by their local police to contact Action Fraud that I call a government quango that is a filter to save the police time and assess if they should investigate it or not. The disconcerting thing about Action Fraud is that just 25% of reports have been sent to local police over the past four years. Also their are claims of these referrals being subject to a postcode lottery. I do have figures to confirm this fact.
    Overall myself and others who work in this sector have a serious lack of confidence in the police and CPS. You have to realise you have two hurdles to jump here to see a case reach prosecution. As one of the lawyers I work with recently commented on how the CPS are too often looking at cases that cost the least.
    A classic example I have been dealing with for the past three years is one where roughly 2,000 people lost money on large deposits for Off Plan overseas property purchases. Looking at the figures collectively we are talking serious millions. Hundreds went to the police who the directed them to Action Fraud who then sent them all the “sorry to hear you have been a victim” letter and that was the end of it.
    My attempts to get the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to take the case up has been refused. So personally, I just don’t have any real confidence this report will have any weight to change things. Reports are just that they report of the state of a subject recommend various things and life goes on.

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