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Scams Awareness Month: protecting the elderly from becoming victims of a scam

Posted on 26/07/2017

July is Scams Awareness Month, a campaign to get us all more aware on how scams work, why we should report them and how to keep an eye on others and notice the signs of them being scammed.

While scams can affect any of us, many fraudsters target the elderly and the vulnerable, taking advantage of them, usually for financial gain. Many people will not realise that they are being scammed until it is too late, or be afraid to say anything once it has happened.

For those of us with older relatives or neighbours, or for paid carers working with elderly or vulnerable clients, it is important to understand how scams work and what kinds of clues to look out for, as you can then help prevent or put a stop to someone you know becoming a victim.

According to Age UK, nearly 5 million older people have been targeted by scammers. Its recent report found that two fifths of older people had been targeted by scams and a tenth had gone on to respond to them. Those living alone and those aged over 75 are at the greatest risk of being scammed. Many of the victims don’t tell anyone about it, mainly due to embarrassment, or may only tell family and friends.

However, it’s important that all scams are reported through an official channel, namely ActionFraud, which is the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre. This helps the police to track down the perpetrators and prevent them from scamming others. They can also offer you support and advice.

There are a few ways that you can protect yourself or others from scams. It can be difficult to tell what is genuine sometimes, as fraudsters have got very professional and can appear to be the real deal. If something seems like it is too good to be true, do some research first. Speak to family and friends, call Citizens Advice Customer Service and find out more about the company making the offer. A reputable business should have a contact telephone number, business postal address and a website. You can also check if they are a member of a relevant trade association.

Some fraudsters go door to door, which can be intimidating for older or vulnerable people, and they may feel under pressure to accept offers or services. Ensure that older people you know have a chain across the door, so they don’t have to open it fully to answer a house call. Make sure they ask for an identity card and call the number of the business on the card to check their identity. If the person on the doorstep won’t leave when asked or appears suspicious, close the door and call the police.

Cold-calling scams are also common, whether over the phone or by post, often saying that you have won some money or a holiday, for example, and you need to contact them to claim. As we mentioned before, if something sounds too good to be true, it often is.

Spotting a scam can be hard, but there are clues. The offers or services are usually exceptionally low cost and a very good deal, but there will usually be a time limit to claim so that you feel rushed to make a decision. Genuine businesses will give time for research and thinking, and shouldn’t hassle you into a decision. Never send money to anyone unless you have verified their identity, and remember that banks and other companies will never ask for your full security details over the phone or via email. Find out more about common scams on the Citizens Advice website.

Spotting the signs of another person being scammed is difficult, but there are some clues to watch out for. For example, a victim of a scam may suddenly start receiving a lot of postal mail that looks like junk, or they may have a lot of items being delivered. They may also seem more anxious than usual, especially when the phone rings, which could be frequently.  They may also be scared and secretive, and unwilling to discuss your concerns. Being scammed can massively affect the mental health of a victim, especially if they lose a lot of money. Be gentle in your approach when addressing your concerns, and make it clear that you are there to help, that you understand and that you can direct them to professional advice to help get the situation under control.

Find out more about the Scam Awareness Month website. 

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