A loyal grandson became his grandmother’s anti-scamming superhero after he discovered she was being plagued by nuisance callers. Patsy Lees, 82, was being hassled up to 30 times a day by unscrupulous cold callers trying to talk her into parting with cash. Charlie Shakeshaft, 26, was furious when he realised what her grandmother, who he calls Pansy, was going through and flew to her defence.
Charlie, one of three children, who grew up in Surrey and enjoyed many afternoons with his grandma said: ” My mum’s mum lived about 10 minutes away and I saw her every week. We’re still a close bunch and have a ritual Sunday roast as a family. Even though I live in London now, I still go most weekends”.
So when he dropped in on Patsy in 2016, and discovered she was being harassed by scam callers, Charlie was livid – and immediately keen to help. “I went to her house. She was on the phone when I arrived and was clearly getting frustrated and red in the face with whoever the person was calling her,” he said. “As it was my grandma, that person who was making her angry was my enemy straight away.”
Charlie managed to sign her up to various call-blocking services leaving the retired nurse, of Betchworth, Surrey, delighted. Patsy was so pleased that she told her pals and news of Charlie’s scam-scuppering superpowers soon spread – resulting in him launching a community business to help protect consumers.
Charlie, said: “My grandma was getting 30 of these calls a day – which is outrageous. It was back in 2016 and, living on her own, she was horribly vulnerable to that. After helping her, I realised we could build a community of like-minded people. There are tools out there to tackle scams and most of them are free, but it’s about awareness and knowing what to do. People don’t protect themselves against scammers in the same way they would from their house being burgled.”
Launching Individual Protection Solutions (IPS) in 2017, Charlie got celebrity backing from former England rugby player and Strictly Come Dancing star Austin Healey, who is a company director. Now, Charlie and Patsy are keen to highlight the simple steps people can take to protect themselves from scams.
Luckily, Patsy had not fallen for any of the scams – but had still become a target for nuisance marketing. “She was being called by people trying to pressure sell to her – trying to push her into investments and lots of schemes,” Charlie said. “She became hesitant about answering her landline when it could have been her friends, family, or even her grandkids calling, as every time she answered it was someone trying to sell something to her.”
Determined to find a solution, Charlie, who was running his own digital marketing business at the time, quickly Googled how to stop scam calls. He found two quick-fire methods. He signed Patsy up for the Telephone Preference Service, which then makes it illegal for anyone to cold call you, and installed a BT landline call blocker, which the phone company provided free of charge.
Realising most of the public could benefit from cyber-security solutions in simple, easy to follow language, Charlie formed a business plan. He said: “It started snowballing and grew very rapidly. Now we have thousands of members signed up. I believe the majority of people in the UK have a similar problem to my grandma. She’s not vulnerable – she climbed to Everest base camp and is very strong – but she will never have an interest in cyber-security!”
“We want to provide cybersecurity level solutions, in simple human language, so they are available to the masses and everyone can use them – in other words, tech solutions for non-cyber experts.”
Charlie’s dad, who owns a business in the wine industry, then introduced his son to Austin Healey, who also has an interest in tech businesses, and the pair worked together, setting up the website and learning more about the market. After about six months, IPS Community was incorporated in May 2017 – and, following its launch, now has just shy of 130,000 members.
Meanwhile, Charlie has vowed that they will continue to keep their basic plan free to all users who want it. And while his gran was not taken in by the scammers, it still disrupted her life.
Charlie continued: “It still impacted her life. These calls were stressful for her even though she’s a very strong woman. Receiving 30 of these a day would take a mental toll on anyone. We feel protective over our family members and it’s not nice to see that. I’m just glad this didn’t happen during the lockdown. If she’d been hesitant to answer the phone when she was isolated on her own in her house, the mental strain on her would have been horrendous.”
Patsy also admits that the calls were really getting to her. She said: “I never thought of myself as someone who could be emotionally impacted by scam calls, but getting up to 30 a day left me feeling distraught and vulnerable. The most frustrating thing was not knowing how I could make them stop. Now, I am proud to have inspired Charlie and his work with IPS.”
“I am a resilient character, having travelled all over the world in my career as a nurse, and having climbed to Everest base camp in my seventies. But the calls escalated to the point that I was faced with the dilemma of the very technology I used to keep in contact with my family also being the way in for the scammers. Faced with a lot of jargon and complex solutions online, it wasn’t until I sat down with Charlie that I understood the preventative measures I could take to protect myself. There are simple steps but without his help, I don’t know what I would have done.”