Trading standards operation leads to compensation for fraud victims

This story was published 4 January 2021

Relatives of an 80-year-old Scarborough woman who lost more than £94,000 to fraudsters have had the bulk of the cash returned.

An image of money and a calculator.

This followed a successful operation involving North Yorkshire trading standards officers, which has seen a string of victims compensated.

Our trading standards staff worked with colleagues from other agencies as Operation Gauntlet, which instigated confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which allows the courts to seize back from criminals the profits of their illegal endeavours.

In some cases, elderly victims had lost their life savings to criminals.

In total, Operation Gauntlet accounted for £140,000 which the courts ordered offenders to give up.  As much as £53,000 of that has just been received by the authorities, allowing some of those defrauded to get their money back before Christmas.

It also signals the success of the operation, with most of the money now returned to those who lost it.

The success came too late for the 80 year old Scarborough woman to see justice as she sadly died before £68,000 of the £94,500 stolen from her could be returned.

But her relatives were so grateful that when a trading standards officer contacted a niece to say the money was being returned, she was initially unable to speak because she was in tears.

Matt O’Neill, our Assistant Director for Trading Standards, said: “We have been able to return more than £68,000 to her niece because her aunt sadly died before we were successful with the prosecution.

“We had the pleasure of ringing family members when the court case happened and her niece was unable to speak for a couple of minutes because she was so overwhelmed. She wanted to say how much it meant to the family for them to get justice for her aunt.”

One of those who saw his stolen money returned days before the festive season told council officials the development had “made his Christmas”.

The Proceeds of Crime Act was introduced to allow investigators to identify assets acquired from crime and to have them stripped away from offenders.

In many cases that money goes either to the Treasury or the agencies involved in investigations, to be invested in further work against criminals. But not until the victims of the crimes have been compensated.

Removing criminals’ illegal assets also makes it more difficult for them to re-start offending when their sentences are over.

Operation Gauntlet was more unusual because it has returned cash directly to those who had been defrauded.

Further confiscation proceedings are due against three more defendants in July 2021, on an investigation run in conjunction between trading standards and the North East Regional Economic Crime Unit.

The crime victims were mainly aged 70 or older, falling victim to frauds such as paying inflated prices for work at their homes.

Cllr Andrew Lee, our Executive Member for Trading Standards said: “It is good to see how successful this operation has been. It is important for public confidence to know that criminals have not been left with financial benefits from their offending.

“But it is even more important that those who had lost their precious savings have seen money returned to them. That is what the legislation was intended to achieve.”

For people who believe they have been subject to a fraud or a scam,  consumer advice is available by calling 0808 223 1133. This includes making complaints about a trader, product, or to report a scam. This service is provided on our behalf by the Citizens Advice service and they will pass details of enforcement issues to the North Yorkshire County Council trading standards team.