A grandmother today told how she has blown tens of thousands of pounds of her life savings after being “groomed” by a string of mail scams.
Widower Randi Lane, 69, believes she has lost around £20,000 after spending years replying to the scams, and has received up to 20 letters a day from the likes of lotteries and supposed clairvoyants who have deliberately targeted her and asked for cash to claim a prize.
Today Mrs Lane said she feels “stupid and terrible” for falling for the schemes, while trading standards bosses said the case was an example of how con artists can use cleverly-worded letters to “groom” people into handing over their hard-earned money.
Mrs Lane’s was one of dozens of names found on a so-called ‘suckers list’ when the National Scam Hub, a countrywide operation set up to “close the net” on sophisticated scam networks, raided a distribution house from where scam mail would be sent.
She said: “I must have spent thousands. It was worded perfectly for you to get dragged into it. They did seem believable.
“I must have spent £20,000 since 2006.
“It was stupid and it makes me feel sick.”
Mrs Lane, from St Annes, is one of 55 people who Lancashire County Council’s trading standards officers have so far sought out as part of a campaign to help stop people replying to the scams, including 13 on the Fylde coast.
She moved to England from her native Norway four decades ago and worked all her adult life. But she said she has missed out on family get-togethers and annual trips back to her homeland in recent years after spending her savings on the scams.
After being contacted by council bosses, she has managed to claim only a few hundred pounds back.
She added: “Because of this I haven’t been able to go back to visit Norway.
“I feel terrible.
“They say you’ve won the earth and what a lucky person you are. I just thought, I might be lucky one day and win something.
“You send around £20 for the lotteries or £35-40 for the clairvoyants.
“You don’t get anywhere with it.
“They normally target people who are elderly or alone or don’t get out much.
“If people need a pick me up, talk to someone, don’t do this.”
Trading standards chiefs say it is “very upsetting” to see, often elderly, vulnerable people targeted, becoming “chronic” victims as they are “groomed” for their hard-earned money.
Tony Haslam, a lead officer with trading standards, said: “Mrs Lane was highlighted to us as being on what they call a ‘sucker list’.
“Unfortunately, particularly with elderly, vulnerable people they can be taken in and it can open up the flood gates.
“These people are effectively groomed.
“It’s a very vindictive way of earning a living. The scammers spend a lot of time and effort with chronic victims to get that trust, ultimately they’re trying to get money out of their bank.”
Trading standards officers have stressed that “psychology” is used by scammers to get them on side, and that victims should not be blamed for their losses.
Mr Haslam said: “Whatever others may think, people do become vulnerable to getting involved with these things and it’s a very difficult cycle to break.
“Every so often an amount will be sent back by these scammers, but it is a small amount compared to the hundreds sent.
“When scammers get their claws in it can drive victims away from their families and normal life, they can become isolated.
“It is upsetting to deal with. Very often these are the nicest people, they don’t say no, they’re not rude, seeing money going from their bank accounts that they’ve worked hard for, money that may have been earmarked for social care.”
Former nanny Mrs Lane, whose husband Peter died in 1995, was able to reclaim a few hundred pounds of all that she sent off when her bank refunded payments.
She said: “The bank said they realised it wasn’t my fault, so out of thousands I got a couple of hundred back.”
But despite stopping replying to the letters, the grandmother still gets up to half a dozen letters targeting her each morning and says she regularly amasses piles of the scam mail in her flat in central St Annes.
She said: “I got six just this morning.
“I’ve got bags full of mail, it comes from all over the place, but mainly the Netherlands.
“I want to say to other people that they must not be hoodwinked. It’s just a scam.
“I think the people that do this are terrible.”