Communities that Care Fraud Prevention Programme
Fraud is the most prevalent crime in the UK. People are twice as likely to be a victim of fraud than any other crime. More than 53% of over 65s have been targeted by fraudsters and when older people are affected by fraud, their losses are more significant, and they have a greater risk of being targeted repeatedly. A 2013 estimate by the former National Fraud Authority put total losses for individuals as a result of fraud at over £9 billion per annum in the UK, though it is estimated that only 5% of offences are actually reported.
Fraud can have a huge impact on people’s lives. The consequences of fraud on physical and mental health can be debilitating and long lasting and include shame, anger, loss of self-esteem and depression. A study of doorstep fraud showed that victims’ health declines faster than non-victims of a similar age and the knock-on effect can mean people going into care homes, and even dying sooner.
Neighbourhood Watch (NW) is determined to tackle these issues. We received funding from the Connected Communities Innovation Fund to develop and test the Communities that Care programme - a community led approach that helps older people protect themselves from fraud. We wanted to understand what really works in terms of preventative advice and tools, so involved older people in designing the service to better understand these issues, particularly how to encourage people to share their experiences and seek help. Interviews and workshops with Neighbourhood Watch volunteers and older people revealed the stigma associated with fraud, that many people hide the fact they have been scammed out of fear of looking foolish or unable to cope, which is a huge barrier to uncovering and tackling the issue.
These interviews also revealed the potential power of communities to overcome it. When so many of us know someone who has been affected by fraud, having conversations with friends, family and neighbours can have a widespread impact, helping to remove stigma, spread information and provide a listening ear.
Taking a community-led approach to fraud resilience
Communities that Care creates resilient communities by addressing fraud in a way that can easily be adapted to the different needs of varying types of community, the confidence and connections of the volunteers involved and the level of involvement of local partners.
Neighbourhood Watch coordinators are trained to advise people how to better protect themselves from fraud, give practical and emotional help to those affected and signpost those who need greater support to the local agency best placed to provide it. This engagement is through a variety of methods, from one to one conversations to group sessions and coffee mornings.
We developed resources and concepts in collaboration with volunteers:
- Calling cards so volunteers can develop credibility and trust when visiting people at home.
- A contact list from the police to link up NHW groups with partners, such as Trading Standards, that provide information and training on fraud.
- Videos of people who are happy to share their experience of fraud in order to spread awareness and reduce stigma.
- A Neighbourhood Watch information leaflet about fraud titled ‘Working together against fraud’ can be read at residents' convenience
- Linking up the ‘Scam Marshall’ role – a volunteer who’s been targeted before and keen to support others to recognise and report scams.
The pilot was assessed by external evaluators and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The programme had reduced embarrassment and increased openness and dialogue in the area. Giving volunteers responsibility and ownership through the design process developed a sense of having a stake in the delivery of the service and they reported greater awareness, both of potential scams and who the most vulnerable in their community were.
Residents stated that they felt empowered to protect themselves and spread the word to other friends and relatives, helping them to become more fraud aware, as well as sharing concerns about fraud with their NW coordinators and seeking support.
"the project gives people confidence to ask someone and report a potential scam. We have turned it into a community topic so it doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone is talking about it”
Gail Steed, one of the coordinators who piloted the project, talked about how it is helping local people through its inclusivity:
Older and vulnerable people aren’t the only potential users of the solutions we have developed. Volunteer groups, the police, and a range of agencies that collect and share information about where and when scams and fraud are taking place, can also be involved.
Establishing links with partners such as Trading Standards, the police and banks’ fraud prevention teams identified how untapped resources within the community can supplement and strengthen these official channels.
Communities that Care: a scalable, proven solution to tackling fraud
After the success of the pilot, NW has been building on the training and materials we developed and adapting the approach for different communities’ needs. Far from slowing down during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the Communities that Care programme has gone from strength to strength, with volunteers adding fraud prevention materials to deliveries of food, medicine and other supplies to those shielding at home.
Training in fraud prevention for volunteers using the National Trading Standards Scams Team Friends Against Scams training package has been delivered online, and there are plans to adopt a blended approach of face-to-face and online support for volunteers when it’s safe to do so.
Much of the success of Communities that Care is due to the programme's adaptability. It is gaining traction in areas where, historically, there’s been less engagement with NW. In rural villages, where people felt they were tight-knit and looking out for each other anyway, and in some inner city areas where residents felt that the traditional stickers and links with the police might attract, rather than deter, crime, Communities that Care offers a different and more accessible way that local residents and volunteers can engage with Neighbourhood Watch to overcome these reservations. It provides accessible training and materials to capitalise on local volunteers’ desire to help their elderly and vulnerable neighbours protect themselves against fraud and is an effective way of making a positive impact on their health and well-being in a relatively short space of time.
Neighbourhood Watch’s vision for caring, connected communities
Communities that Care is a really important part of NHW’s work to create and maintain caring communities that enable those most at risk protect themselves from the crimes that affect them.