The harrowing tale of a woman, Iris, who sold all her belongings and sent £4,000 to her internet love interest, is being used to warn others of the dangers of scams.

Scams Awareness Week, which is being launched on Monday (24 June) by Trading Standards South West’s (TSSW) newly-relaunched ScamWise service, aims to provide everyone with advice on how not to be duped by a scam – like the romance scam that fooled Iris.

South West-based Iris took to online dating, upon the breakdown of her second marriage, as she was feeling lonely and isolated. It seemed that hope was around the corner as she quickly established an online relationship with ‘Peter’.

However, it wasn’t long before Iris’s family began to have doubts when Iris started sending Peter money. When quizzed about Peter’s requests for money by her daughter Marilyn, Iris became “angry – but continued to send money to Peter” recalled Marilyn.

She said: “She moved away from the dating website and used Skype to speak with him. Then things took a terrible turn when Peter told her to sell all her belongings – which mum did.

“She went to Leeds to meet him, but he didn’t arrive. The police tried to assist, but she refused any help. Peter was now completely controlling her.”

Marilyn soon realised that Peter was not the only one her mum was sending money to, and these scammers were targeting Iris due to her vulnerability as she was undiagnosed bi-polar at the time.

“I felt I had nowhere to turn,” said Marilyn. “I didn’t know how to help my mum, and neither did anyone else, these people target and spend hours, days, months and years grooming their victims and don’t care about the ramifications this has on entire families.”

Iris sadly died following a stroke in 2017 which Marilyn believes was brought on by the stress of the realisation that her online relationships were a scam.

Romance scams such as this are just one of many that people across the region fall victim to.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics show you are twice as likely to be a victim of fraud than any other crime. Scams cost the UK economy up to £10bn a year.

Swindon Borough Council is supporting Scams Awareness Week and its Trading Standards team will be running a scams awareness session in partnership with Wiltshire Bobbyvan at Barclays West Swindon branch between 10am and 2pm on Monday (24 June).

Trading Standards officers will be giving advice about phone, internet, postal and doorstep scams, and how residents can protect themselves. Officers will be handing out Trading Standards’ 2019 Buy with Confidence directory and ‘no cold caller’ stickers to help prevent doorstep scams.

Councillor Cathy Martyn, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Safety, said: “Scams have a devastating personal and financial impact on all those affected, as Iris’s story shows. Our Trading Standards Officers are working to prevent Swindon residents from falling prey to scams and to help those who have become victims.

“Just a couple of weeks ago Trading Standards Officers helped Paul, a Swindon man, who had been duped into purchasing bitcoin after seeing an advertisement on the internet. Trading Standards intervened to help get the £500 he had lost refunded to him by the bank and also to ensure the scammers did not get the thousands of pounds extra they were pushing for.

“Scams Awareness Week is an opportunity to encourage our local communities to be vigilant to scams and help them to identify and prevent these types of fraud.”

During Scams Awareness Week TSSW will show the South West community how to recognise all types of scams and know how to avoid being tricked by the scammers.

The TSWW website offers many free resources including a guide to help people if they, or a family member, are being affected by a scam.

To access the information and download the free guide, visit www.tssw.org.uk/scamwise.

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