Fighting against fraud
County Durham residents are being reminded of the dangers posed by fraudsters during a week of action to fight fraud and raise awareness.
We are calling on members of the public to be vigilant and help in its fight against fraud as part of International Fraud Awareness Week, which runs until Saturday 19 November.
Investigating a range of frauds
Our own corporate fraud team, which investigates adult social care, blue badge, business rates, council tax, insurance, procurement, schools and tenancy frauds, has investigated almost 500 allegations of fraudulent activity this year alone, worth around £1 million.
Since it was first set up in 2015, the team has recovered or intercepted more than £14 million of actual and attempted fraud against the council and its partners, including local housing associations.
The team has played an important role in ensuring the financial support provided to residents and businesses during the pandemic was legitimate, preventing payments totalling £695,000 on fraudulent applications by an organised crime gang.
In this case, the investigator was able to freeze the fraudster's bank account, stopping them from accessing the business grants they had fraudulently obtained. While the grants schemes have now closed, investigations are ongoing and fraudsters will continue to be prosecuted.
'Zero tolerance approach'
Cllr Richard Bell, Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for finance, said: "We take a zero-tolerance approach to fraud as a council. A number of perpetrators have been successfully prosecuted as a result of investigations carried out by our corporate fraud team and the team continues to work tirelessly to identify and prevent further frauds across County Durham.
"In the current economic climate, fraudsters continue to try to advantage of members of the public in any way they can. I would therefore urge all residents to be on their guard to scams. If they are concerned about any correspondence or unsolicited contact they receive, such as a phone call, email or letter that doesn't look genuine, I would ask that they report it to us and help us to fight fraud."
Signs of scams
Common scams include fake emails which are designed to look like an offer of council tax reduction or refunds to the imitation of NHS Track and Trace or TV licensing and subscription services.
Residents are also urged to look out for fake courier texts which charge for rebooking deliveries, emails about Amazon delivery problems which try to access account details, as well as calls from people pretending to be internet providers who ask people to carry out tasks on their computer which will give them remote access to the device.
Other warning signs include:
- A website address which is inconsistent with that of the legitimate organisation
- A phone call, text or email which asks for financial information such as PINs or passwords
- A call or email that appears out of the blue with an urgent request for personal or financial information, or to make an immediate payment
- An offer of a heavily discounted or considerably cheaper product compared to the original price
- Spelling and grammar mistakes or inconsistencies in the story given.