A grieving son has spoken of his horror after discovering his late mother had been systematically conned out of her £100,000 life-savings by postal lottery scammers.
Vicki Westwood, 81, was deluged with an average of 100 letters a week for SIX YEARS along with dozens of phone calls from fraudsters claiming she had won a cash prize.
The vulnerable widow was persuaded to send money, supposedly for administrative fees, to dozens of fake companies with the promise she would receive her reward.
Shockingly, when the retired hairdresser tried to stop sending the crooks the money, she was plagued with phone calls from the conmen who pressured her into posting them more cash.
Between 2008 and when she died on New Year’s Eve after developing septicemia, she had been swindled out of more than £100,000 – an average of #1,000 every week.
The extent of the fraud was only uncovered when her only child, Russell Eaton, 50, was going through her bank accounts after she died and discovered she was broke.
When he went to her home in Pedmore, near Stourbridge, West Mids., he was shocked to find boxes crammed with letters from dozens of scam companies from across the world.
The official-looking letters, which all came with head paper, were addressed to Mrs Westwood telling her she would receive a cash prize if she posted them £40.
Mr Eaton, who licences computer software, has reported the case to the police who referred it to the National Fraud Investigation Bureau which has launched an investigation.
Yesterday the father-of-two said: “I went to the bank to close her accounts and found she was overdrawn a thousand pounds in one and owed the same in another.
“All her life savings and quite a large trust fund that was set up for her by her late husband, my stepfather, had gone.
“I went to her house to try and find documents which were needed, like her birth certificate, but I came across hundreds of thousands of letters from postal lottery scams.
“They all had ‘instant win’ written on them and ‘if you send us this amount you are guaranteed to win thousands’.
“She also had hundreds of letters from clairvoyants which all had similar pagan-looking symbols on them, like she was part of some kind of cult.
“Those letters were really personal, it was like they were grooming her and somehow managed to get into her head.
“The letters had messages on telling her not to speak about anything with her family or friends because they would be jealous if they found out how much money she would make.
“I have been in the house since she died and answered phone calls from the ‘parasites’ asking to speak to her. In the last week alone she has been sent more than 100 letters from them.
“I don’t know how it started but it appears that once you sign up to one scam the crooks share the information and they round on you to plague you with more fake offers.”
Russell also found recorded lists of each payment his mum had made as part of the scams.
Next to each amount, between £20 and £50 a time, Mrs Westwood had written how many days it would be before she was guaranteed to win.
Mr Eaton added: “When I found out I felt absolutely numb. I was so shocked by what I found I was lost for words. I just didn’t know how this could have happened.
“I also felt guilty, like I could have done more. I spoke to her on the phone two or three times a week and went to visit her every week, but never knew about it. She kept it such a secret and very well hidden.
“I wish I had been nosier, gone into rooms I never went in and looked in draws I never looked in, as that is where she would keep the letters.
“Looking back now, I think she was brainwashed but also bullied into sending the money because when I used to call her she would let the phone go to answer phone and call me back.
“She’d say she missed the call because she was in the kitchen or doing something upstairs but now I think she was actually hiding from the scammers.
“It makes me incredibly angry that she was exploited by these ruthless gangs who seemed to share the information between themselves to create the idea that she had won a prize.”
Mr Eaton and his wife Lisa, 46, now hope to raise awareness of the scam dangers, known as mass marketing fraud (MMF).
He said: “It’s such a common thing which is happening. About £3.5billion a year is being sent out of the country as part of these schemes.
“We want to get the message out to post offices, doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and services which help elderly people to not respond or believe in them.”
For more information on postal lottery scams and the Think Jessica campaign visit www.thinkjessica.com