Hertfordshire County Council - Scam prevention campaign

Hertfordshire County Council’s powerful scam prevention campaign used a single story to highlight a common problem. Their campaign was awarded a bronze award at the 2019 Public Service Communications Excellence Awards.

Communications support

Maev, a recent widow, recounted on camera how she was scammed out of almost £30,000 at a vulnerable time in her life. Maev’s story was shared on social media and with local and national press, in the hopes of preventing other people from becoming scam victims. Hertfordshire provided a solution for concerned residents: 'subscribe for Scam Alerts from Trading Standards so you can warn your loved ones'. Their campaign was awarded a bronze award at the 2019 Public Service Communications Excellence Awards.

The challenge
600 scams are reported to Action Fraud by people in Hertfordshire every month. Aside from the financial impact on victims, national research has revealed the devastating effect of scams on mental and physical health, as well as loneliness and lack of confidence. Fraudsters typically target older, vulnerable people, who live alone. These scam victims are often too embarrassed or ashamed to speak out, even to close family and friends. Once someone has become a scam victim, the damage has been done. It is rare that they’ll receive financial compensation, even if their perpetrator is brought to justice. What’s more, they are left with feelings of anxiety, distrust, and shame. To demonstrate the risk that scams pose to Hertfordshire’s loved ones, and motivate them to take action to help prevent scams, it was decided to centre the campaign on a case study.

We decided to run a campaign to help prevent scams from happening, surveying 300 residents who helped to form their communications objectives. Our primary aim was to increase awareness of the impact of scams on scam victims through media coverage and video engagement. Secondly, we wanted to inform children, neighbours, and carers of older people about new scams affecting residents. The aim was to get 200 new subscribers to our bulletin.

The solution
From previous campaigns, we knew it was difficult to reach older people directly with our communications, which is why we turned to the people who know them best: their children, neighbours, and carers. Our local research showed us that people were willing to speak to older people about scams if it would help stop those becoming victims in the future.

Working with colleagues in Trading Standards, we found Maev Dunmore, a scam victim from Stevenage who was conned out of £28,500. With Maev’s agreement, we created a video exploring the recent widow’s experience. The video didn’t just detail Maev’s financial losses, but the impact it had on her mental and physical health. The impact of Maev’s story was also increased by her powerful, eloquent delivery on camera. Our average Facebook fan (a woman between the ages of 35 and 54) matched their profile of children of older people, so we decided to use this social channel as our primary platform for this part of the campaign. Maev’s story was also sold to local and national press to get it seen as widely as possible.

96 per cent of people surveyed said they would speak to an older relative or neighbour about scams, but they needed a source of information. It was decided that direct email marketing would be the primary platform for this part of the campaign. 42 per cent of residents aged 30-64 said that this was their preferred channel for updates from the county council. We revamped their existing e-newsletter consumer advice topic to start providing regular scam alerts from Trading Standards. To increase our subscriber base, we also included a call to action to subscribe for email scam alerts in our social media posts about Maev’s story. Crucially, the short, sharp email alerts would include a call to action: #TellThem – pass on the information you read in this email to older and vulnerable people you know, who are likely to be targeted.

The impact
Through sharing Maev’s story, we were able to increase the awareness of the impact of scams on scam victims. 14 per cent of 1,001 residents had heard of our scams prevention campaign featuring Maev’s story. Extrapolated across the Hertfordshire population, this would be over 150,000. Over 65s, who are often vulnerable to scams, were the group most likely to have seen the campaign: 20 per cent of them said they had seen Maev’s story. A total of 18,000 video views, 15,000 of which were on Facebook. We had a high engagement rate on Facebook: 52 per cent compared to an average of 30 per cent on other videos. Our social posts reached 166,000. One Facebook commenter said, “Well done #BraveMaev I’m signed up!” We received local and national media coverage, having successfully pitched Maev’s story to the Daily Express, who included advice from our Head of Trading Standards in their coverage (a double-page spread), and the Daily Mirror, who used Maev’s video in their coverage. During the campaign period, there was a 27 per cent increase in scam reporting: 731 scams were reported in Hertfordshire in March 2019 compared to 575 in March 2018.

We were able to inform the children, neighbours, and carers of older people about new scams affecting residents. 300 new subscribers joined the consumer advice email topic, with each Scam Alert email consistently reached over 9,000 people. The new Scam Alert-style emails were opened 5 per cent more on average than previous consumer advice emails (40 per cent average open rate for Scam Alerts)

Why it worked and how we’re sustaining it
This campaign worked because of the vulnerable, human story at its centre. Maev’s experience allowed us to paint a very real picture of the problem with scams, making it a relatable issue that people could envision happening to their older loved ones. A solution was provided to the problem presented. This wasn’t just an awareness-raising campaign: concerned residents could get updates about scams to warn their relatives in just two clicks. This solution was sustainable; being able to provide Trading Standard teams with a template to continue sending out alerts as soon as they hear about a new scam.

Lessons learned
We knew we needed a case study to make this campaign work, but it had been two years since a victim was willing to share their story. If you want to use a case study where the person involved may be vulnerable, it’s worth letting the team you work with know what you’re looking for ahead of time. That way, they can keep an eye out for people who want to share their experience to help others. Maev was willing to be filmed and to take part in initial media interviews, but we kept checking in on her as she retold her difficult story. After some national interviews, Maev felt overwhelmed and was unable to keep reliving her experience. We turned away interest from the national media, including national ITV and Channel 5 news. Next time, we would consider setting up the option of a supportive family member who can help tell their case study’s story to the media.

Want to know more?
For more information about this campaign please contact Grace Fordham, Campaigns and Communications Officer at Hertfordshire County Council.