That was the question I was asking myself after a neighbour was victim to fraud and, looking for local info, I attended a talk on the subject at a day centre run by my local @ageukbarnet. The first speaker, from a home care agency, began by listing all the possible frauds and scams that can happen, throwing in a few legitimate but unwanted direct mail techniques for good measure.

As bullet point followed bullet point, and we got into the difference between an .exe file and a .doc, I began to worry that the natural reaction - to treat everything as a potential threat - would create paranoia that might be out of proportion to the actual risk. We know that people overestimate the amount of crime and this, it seemed to me, risked reinforcing that tendency. Worries deepened talking to the older woman next to me, who was clearly deeply troubled after reading about a form of violent street robbery that was, apparently, widespread. But I also live in the borough and I’d never heard of it – was it really that much of a risk? (Afterwards I looked up the stats and found that serious violent crime is extremely rare in Barnet, even lower than other London boroughs: only 1 in every 10,000 people will be affected in any given month).

Fortunately the police came to the rescue in the form of a local DCI who gave out sensible, authoritative advice, including to talk to friends and family before handing over money to anyone. Crucially, she could put people’s fears into proportion based on local knowledge. She said that in Barnet 1 in 1,000 people will fall victim to a scam in a year: certainly enough to be concerned – and of course the consequences, if it happens, can be devastating - but not yet an epidemic. And she told the woman next to me that, yes, there had been one or two instances of this form of street robbery but not recently because of new police tactics (‘though obviously I can't tell you what they are') and there was no particular reason to worry.

By the end, it felt as though the risks were clear to everyone but nobody wanted to pull the drawbridge all the way up, at least not just yet.


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