A retired Army colonel and dementia sufferer was hounded by charities and targeted by fraudsters who conned him out of £35,000 – after he failed to tick one box when filling out a survey.
Big-hearted Samuel Rae, 87, was targeted after completing a survey for a charity he supported but did not tick the box stating he did not want his details shared.
He was contacted over 700 times by 12 different firms, some of which tried to convince him he had won vast sums of money in prizes.
In total Mr Rae handed over £35,000 and the situation only came to light when his son, Chris Rae, visited his home and found it filled with hundreds of scam letters.
Chris said: “The way charities have treated him is absolutely disgraceful. If what they have done to my father is legal, then the law needs to change.
“I’m just appalled and deeply shocked.
“It is a horrific insight into what can happen when you forget – as we all sometimes do – to tick a box in the small print.”
Mr Rae, of Land’s End, Cornwall, was fiercely independent and served in the Army for more than 30 years, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
But he now suffers from severe dementia following a rapid decline in health following the death of his wife Elizabeth in 2009, and now cannot even recognise his son Chris.
His vulnerability, alongside his healthy pension, made him the perfect target for scam companies who got hold of his personal data.
Mr Rae’s ordeal began when he filled out a lifestyle survey in 1994, for a charity which no longer exists.
He mentioned his pet cat in reply to one of the questions, and as such was put on a list of ‘pet lovers’, and his name and address were sold.
His details were then purchased by two charities – the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the PDSA.
Both charities immediately contacted Mr Rae to ask for donations, and after recruiting him as a supporter, the PDSA sold his information onto other, less creditable, companies.
His details were obtained by a medical insurance company, a gambling company and a jewellery company, and even Prize Winners – a company run by serial mail conman Adrian Williams.
The scammers and the charities alike encouraged Mr Rae to enter lotteries and sweepstakes in the belief that he would win prizes.
Some charities even placed his personal details on lists of people who are deemed likely to respond to letters about sweepstakes.
These lists are referred to in the industry as ‘suckers’ lists, and are a valuable resource to conmen. Mr Rae is thought to be on at least 11 such lists.
Louise Baxter, manager of the National Trading Standards Scams Team, said: “A scam company will buy these lists because it knows the people on it are likely to fall victim to a scam.
“I would take a pretty dim view of charities selling lists like this, it does put the people on that list at risk.”
The PDSA was one of the charities which put Mr Rae’s details on such a list then offered for sale to others, including the charity Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation (DRWF).
The DRWF put Mr Rae’s name on two other lists of its own, and went on to sell those two lists 107 times, including to ten scam companies.
One of the companies that bought the DRWF sweepstakes list was Biotonic, a catalogue scam firm which quickly bombarded Mr Rae with mail.
The letters he received claimed he had won a huge prize but needed to buy products from a catalogue to speed up the cheque.
Before long a confused Mr Rae had spent over £300, but the cheque for Biotonic never arrived.
Another scam company that bought the DRWF sweepstakes list was Best Of, who managed to scam Mr Rae out of almost #3,500.
In total Mr Rae’s details were passed on 200 times to 88 charities, including Unicef and the British Red Cross, and 12 scam firms.
With so many organisations targeting Mr Rae, he was inundated with mail and phone calls from scammers and charities alike.
The vulnerable widower openly trusted the charities which sold on his information, believing them to do the right thing.
As such, his son Chris has now moved back into the family home to care for him, and he now has lasting power of attorney for his father.
Mr Rae’s plight was only discovered when Chris went to visit the family home and was shocked to see his father sitting amongst piles of letters and unwanted goods.
Chris said: “There had clearly been a concerted effort to trick him out of his money.
“What I never understood was how did they get his name in the first place?
“The most shocking thing to me is the charities.
“You think charities would have the highest ethical standards of any organisations.
“It is clear to me that some of them have been taken over by people who only care about making money.
“In a way, I am glad my father is not able to understand what has happened. He belongs to a generation who just trusted charities to do the right thing.”
The PDSA said it had ‘categorised’ Mr Rae on a list of people who were ‘interested in competitions’ but denied that this was a ‘suckers’ list.
It said that it obtained appropriate consents before providing supporters details to selected third parties and no longer shares such data.
Sarah Bone, chief executive of the DRWF, said the charity deals with “recognised list brokers or directly with charities who are fully compliant with the Data Protection Act and work within the guidelines of the Direct Marketing Association to ensure that we are exchanging, as far as we can be sure, with reputable organisations”.
She also said the charity would “take immediate and necessary action” if it found there was a cause for concern over the way it traded data.
Miss Bone added: “We regularly review our fundraising practices as it is our aim to adhere to good practice, particularly when it concerns the relationship which we enjoy with our supporters, and we are currently going through this process.”
Chris Rae, who cares full time for his father Samuel, uncovered the scams by making Freedom of Information Act requests to the charities.
He put in a subject access request on behalf of his father and was able to see who had sold his father’s information, and to whom.
Chris said: “We used the data protection laws on the charities, which allow you to access your data.
“So you can say to them ‘I want you to tell me where you got my data from, what you have done with it’, the whole lot.
“We did that, and they responded with the information we requested.
“Because we requested it off so many people we had to cross check it, when one company sold it to another for example.
“I was quite shocked when I found out.
“It’s a bit like the banks, there was a time when the banks were on your side, where as we now know they are not.
“It’s like the charities have moved into that area, they are very professional in their data gathering.
“My father had a problem with prize draws, and a lot of the charities have a prize draw database and once you respond you’re on the list.
“When you stand back you think why are you shocked, I’d given them in my head some sort of moral high ground.
“They are doing good work for people in need and you assume that’s right the way through the organisation but that’s not the case, the funding department is run like a boiler room.
“If they had been passing the information amongst themselves I wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, but I was surprised to find they were buying and selling information on the open market with no checks as to who they are selling it to or buying it from.
“My father lost £33,000 to the scammers, then £7,000 on interest on credit cards which he used to pay for the goods.
“The scammers were sourcing his information from his charitable donations. He was relatively generous to charities, and he lost a lot of money out of it.
“It’s daft really; the charities would have had more money if the scammers hadn’t ripped him off completely.
“My father has dementia, and is at a point where he barely recognises me, so he’s out the loop completely.
“Because of his dementia I have lasting power of attorney, which means I have the power to ask the charities about where they got their data from.
“On a personal level it’s not great that this happened but my father is ex-army and ex-civil service, and we can recover from this.
“There are people out there getting scammed who don’t have the money in the first place and its ruining people’s lives, there is no justification for it.
“We’re relatively lucky compared to some of the people out there getting caught up in these scams.
“We’re about halfway through sorting it out, another couple of years we will be back on an even keel again. Even with good money coming in it is quite a hit.”