FRAUDSTERS are stealing millions of pounds from elderly victims.

In a 12-month period to November last year, 332 people lost more than £4.25 million, according to figures released by the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.

The average loss was around £13,000 and the highest was £350,000.

A study carried out in January also found half the 3,200 Sussex residents questioned in the survey knew someone who had been a victim of fraud.

Two thirds of those said money had been taken.

In 127 of the cases mentioned, each person lost at least £10,000, totalling £1.27 million.

The news comes as commissioner Katy Bourne launched a campaign to tackle exploitation of the elderly.

Jean Holmwood, 67, of Heathfield, who fell victim to an online fraud in 2013, said: “I felt pathetic.

“I like to think of myself as being quite on top of things, especially when it comes to computers and the internet, and that’s where I went down.

“I was quite disgusted at myself, embarrassed.

“It’s just degrading, it’s an insult to your intelligence and you feel so stupid.”

Results from the survey carried out by the Sussex Elders’ Commission and Neighbourhood Watch showed nine out of ten people felt being old and living alone made you more susceptible to fraud.

Eight out of ten said it would be safer to live with a companion.

Separate figures showed in the year to November, Sussex Police officers were called to visit 651 vulnerable people, the majority of who were over 75.

Ms Bourne said: “Just because somebody is smooth-talking your grandmother out of her life savings over the phone instead of mugging her in the street doesn’t make it a less serious offence.

“These results prove that criminal gangs are grooming our vulnerable, lonely and often elderly residents, robbing them of their life savings and potentially the ability to look after themselves.”

The majority of the survey’s participants said they would report being a victim of fraud but fewer believed they would do this if they had been scammed.

Some 16 per cent felt it was their responsibility to learn from their mistakes and not repeat it.

Another 15 per cent felt police were too busy to be troubled, 14 per cent were not sure how to report it and 11 per cent didn’t think it would achieve anything.

Separate figures released by the PCC said men were more likely to fall victim to investment fraud and being contacted by telephone. The figures showed the average amount lost for that type of fraud was £65,000.

Ms Bourne added: “We need clearer messages that everyone can understand.

“It’s no use having 20 different phone numbers for people to contact if they’re the victim of fraud.

“We want to find out what else can be done to prevent this epidemic of elder exploitation.”

A crime summit on the subject, which took place last week, found many people were keen for banks to train staff to spot unusual cash withdrawals and transfers.

Most felt staff should contact their customers if they spotted this on an account.

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