Scams against older people are on the rise and there are a number of reasons why they can be at greater risk. But how can we protect them when it’s so easy to be taken in by scammers’ elaborate ploys?
So why are older people susceptible to scams? Well, loneliness often leads older people to embrace those who engage them in conversation, either in person or on the phone, and this can sometimes affect their judgement.
Older people may also be less likely to have access to the internet to check the legitimacy of a company. And, they may not have experience of the fact that banks and other institutions never ask for details over the phone.
Why scammers seem convincing
Scammers work by putting pressure on someone to commit to buy very quickly, suggesting an offer is only available for a limited period, or that paying now will secure a discount. This can make older people in particular feel forced to act against their better judgement.
Recent scams include elderly people being telephoned by a fraudster pretending to be a police officer, informing the victim that their bank credit card is being used fraudulently and advising them to withdraw £5,000 from their bank, so an officer can take and mark the notes.
They are further advised not to reveal their reason for the withdrawal of this cash to the bank, as it may interfere with their investigations and stop them from catching the thieves. If the victim appears doubtful, the fraudster tells them to seek immediate verification by calling 999, but then keeps the line open by not hanging up. So when the victim dials 999, they unknowingly reconnect with the fraudster and all the details are confirmed by an accomplice.
Alternatively, scammers ask victims to check bank card misuse with the bank, using the security number on the back of their card. Once again, by not hanging up, the fraudster keeps the line open. Then the victim, using the bank’s printed security number, unknowingly connects with a fraudster, who confirms that the claims are indeed correct.
They also ask for PIN details over the telephone. In one recent case, the fraudster obtained the victim’s PIN number and arranged for their credit card to be collected for ‘finger printing’. As instructed, the victim double-sealed their credit card in two envelopes. Fortunately, the courier company became suspicious and informed the police.
Are old people really a soft target?
It is very important not to patronise older people, or to assume that everyone over a certain age is susceptible to scams, but in my view, it is even more essential to protect older people wherever possible from unscrupulous individuals, who believe their older victims are a soft target.
It is easy to assume that most people won’t be taken in, but my own 81 year-old mother was recently called by a ‘florist’ and ended up paying £160 over the phone, and it turned out to be a local brothel. That is how bizarre scams can get.
There are a number of practical measures which we can all take to protect ourselves against scams, such as buying a telephone with screening mechanisms. I have recently invested in such a phone myself and have eliminated all cold calls to my home, yet not to my mobile! I am still searching for a solution there.
Remind your older relative not to be bullied into any deals and to check them out with you or someone else they trust first. And if they are put under any pressure at all, they should not hesitate to call the police.
This is a guest contribution by Deborah Stone, co-founder of myageingparent.com, to mark Older People’s Day. All opinions are Deborah’s own, not necessarily those of Which?