/ Home & Energy, Money, Shopping, Technology

We should protect, not patronise, older people against scams

Man with magnifying glass

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?


I have a caller display on my phone which lets me know who is calling, numbers on my contact list come up as names ,it is well worth the money.Calls from unknown numbers do not get answered as do withheld numbers. I am 76 years old and live on my own

Deborah Stone says:
1 October 2015

I think those phones at every helpful, but some people still answer all calls, especially if they are lonely

Roland says:
14 June 2017

Caller display is a great idea, there are apps you can use with your phones which help with using one for those who find it difficult. Necta Launcher, has a smart SOS feature that sends emergency texts which is really helpful for anyone living alone. Having first-hand experience with my own grandparents, I know I feel safer knowing my grandparents have access to technology which is not confusing and keeps them safe.

[Sorry Roland, your comment has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]


This is a difficult subject. One the one hand older parents who might be susceptible to this sort of technique do need protection, but are often highly resistant to being protected, even by their own offspring. On the other hand it’s equally important to ensure that older parents are not ‘protected’ by offspring more anxious to get their hands on the money than they are about their parents’ safety.

Possibly one answer lies in developing more real-life social opportunities for elderly parents. It’s at these sorts of gatherings that they can be shown what’s happening in the world of fraud and how best to deal with it. The biggest hurdle I find is lack of comprehension regarding the internet. If they’re not au fait with internet nasties and risks it can be immensely difficult to help them. One excellent example of this is the group organiser who send out Round Robin emails to the group with everyone’s emails clearly visible in the CC line. For years I’ve been carefully (and I hope not in the least condescendingly) explaining to group secretaries the risks involved and how to circumvent them. It has never worked.

Not only that but even apparently intelligent people who use the internet on a daily basis seem to resent being told that it’s a bad idea. So I doubt there are any easy solutions to this one.


It’s interesting you should mention that about newsletters, Ian. For years I have been trying to get a local neighbourhood organisation to put their circulation list in the Bcc: box instead of the To: or Cc: box but to no avail. They seem to assume that all the members are as pure as the driven snow and would never forward a mailing to anyone who might misuse the information. In the end I unsubscribed and now catch up with the group’s doings by looking at their noticeboard. I originally thought this tendency arose with people who had not worked with computers in an office environment and perhaps were not aware of the ways to avoid revealing addressees’ e-mail addresses but your final para suggests otherwise. Perhaps they think that listing the names and e-mail addresses is more sociable and cohesive, and enables members to communicate with each other. I thought there were some controls on this under the Data Protection Act but I am out of touch on how it applies in the non-commercial arena. I am sure within the murky world of scamming there are ‘scouts’ whose business it is to gather names and e-mail addresses and couple them with other information to produce ‘leads’. Unprotected circulation lists are a gift to such people.


When using bcc it is worth indicating the intended recipients at the start of an email, e.g. Members of ……… Society. That makes it clear that it is not a personal email.


Indeed, and a very good idea. But the real problem is that when everyone’s addresses are listed on the CC line it only requires a single recipient whose computer has a virus or been compromised in some way to infect everyone on that list.


Good point Wavechange, or even include the org’s name in the heading.

I don’t think there’s much defence against the problem Ian has cited, other than to keep your antivirus status bang up to date.