How to spot and prevent fraud and scams: Top tips for older people

According to the National Trading Standards Scams Team, more than 53% of people over the age of 65 have been targeted by scammers. Victims can be any age, gender, and from any education or economic background. However, criminals often target people perceived as vulnerable, lonely or isolated.

Scammers can try to defraud people in many ways, such as over the telephone, through text messages, via email or in person, with rogue traders knocking on the door. No matter the tactic, scams have a devastating effect on the victim, financially, emotionally and mentally.

But the good news is that there are ways of preventing these scams, with many charities working hard to raise awareness of their existence. To help you keep safe at home, we spoke to some experts to get more information on spotting and preventing fraud and scams.

Take five before taking action

Age UK provides an extensive list of scams and how to spot them on its website, as well as running a ‘Take Five to Stop Fraud’ campaign. This recommends the following steps:

  • STOP: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
  • CHALLENGE: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
  • PROTECT: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, says: “Scams can have a devastating emotional and financial impact on older victims, seriously damaging their quality of life and wellbeing. The financial impact of being scammed can be very considerable too. This is why it’s good to see the government taking steps to protect people from scams in its recent Fraud Strategy. But we must go further and ensure online services and tech companies are doing more to ensure that scams don’t happen in the first place.”

Stay vigilant

Scams have become much more sophisticated over the years, thanks to advancing developments in AI and with chatbots. This means constant vigilance is needed now more than ever.

Retired teacher and nutritional therapist Veronica Evans is 88 and lives alone in Bournemouth. She says she’s very wary of being scammed and looks closely at emails – but is actually becoming more concerned about phone calls: “I get them nearly every day on my mobile or home phone, and some sound quite genuine,” Veronica explains. “I’ve tried to have the numbers blocked, but both my phone provider and Apple say there’s nothing they can do as they’re always different numbers. Some callers pretend to be from an organisation I’ve never heard of, so I just put down the phone.”

Veronica adds that she’s amazed at how scammers can be so persuasive and genuine sounding: “I had one caller saying they were from BT and there was something wrong with my account. Initially, I believed them. Then I remembered to ask them to email me, as they should have my email address on file if they’re genuine. They just put the phone down.”

Richard Robinson, CEO of Hourglass, the UK-wide charity focused on ending abuse of older people, says this is the right action to take. “Hourglass would always urge older people not to accept services from strangers or cold callers, whether in person, on the phone or online,” Richard explains. “Think carefully about who you ask to run errands, collect prescriptions or to do any shopping for you.”

Richard adds: “Fraudsters sound professional and will play on any weakness or opportunity, so don’t worry about appearing impolite by saying no. Take all the time needed and never make an immediate decision when offered a deal or product. Consult a trusted independent party or seek professional advice before agreeing.”

Safety at the front door

The charity Think Jessica provides valuable tips and steps that people can take before opening the door to strangers. These include:

  • Setting up passwords with utility companies, so only genuine representatives of that company know what it is – Cadent Gas offers this, and plenty of other safety measures for their customers
  • Keeping your front and back door locked
  • Keeping the chain on your door and not opening it fully if an unexpected person you don’t recognise knocks at your door
  • Rearranging unexpected appointments or calls so that a friend or family member can be there
  • Calling 999 if a suspicious caller knocks on your door unexpectedly or is on your property without your permission (or calling 101, if they have already left)

Doorstep criminals can also sometimes work in pairs or groups. One crook might come to your door and distract you by luring you to the back of the house to show you a bogus ‘necessary repair’ on your roof, or similar. This can then leave the coast clear for another person to sneak into your home and steal something. This type of crime is known as a ‘distraction burglary’, so it is worth keeping in mind when you are answering your door.

Protect friends and family

Unfortunately, some older people fail to recognise that they are being scammed, so family and friends are urged to look out for them. Age UK suggests the following:

  • Install a call blocker to help halt phone calls from strangers or call centres
  • Sort through the mail together to help identify scam letters
  • Install ‘No Junk Mail’ signs by the front door
  • Use the Royal Mail’s website to opt out of unaddressed mail
  • Register with the Mail Preference Service to stop unsolicited mail
  • Register with the Telephone Preference Service to opt out of unsolicited marketing telephone calls
  • Be aware of Cybercrime and help them to be secure online, protecting their data and devices from hacking, and to recognise scam emails

Age UK says many older people are caught out by scams because they want someone to talk to, so ensuring they see family and friends regularly can also help prevent scams.

Further reading

Additional support at home

Alongside reablement, staying independent is about having peace of mind that you’re not going to be left cold or in the dark if the heating or electricity fails.

The Priority Services Register (PSR) is an important, free support service which is designed to support those who need a little extra help in the event of interruptions to their gas, water or electricity supply. If you or someone you know has extra communication, access or safety needs, signing up to the PSR will help ensure you or they can access the best possible services at all times, and feel safe and independent at home. 

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