We want to help people avoid all crises, and that includes avoiding fraud. Criminals follow wealth and the current generation of older people tend to be very good at saving for retirement and owning equity in their homes.  That’s probably why so many older people are targeted by scammers.

What is a Scam? Scams are fraudulent and they trick people into parting with their personal details and/or cash.  No-one should consider themselves safe and even the most savvy can be targeted.   Most recently the much loved Martin Lewis’s name was being used by fraudsters.  Martin Lewis publishes tips to spot a scam and tips on how to avoid them here 

We love the idea that it’s  better to think something genuine is a scam and not do it, rather than spend time and hassle clawing your way out of a problem.  Worse still, not finding out until it’s too late.

We have family experience of not finding out until it is too late. A dear aunt who lived alone, paid a very substantial amount to fraudsters years ago which could never be recovered.

We also have the experience of a client. The most capable and happy 91 year old lady you could ever hope to meet. She delights in her independence and family has not set up power of attorney yet.

Her sons arrange for our carers to visit daily. She has dementia. Her carer helps her with all sorts of tasks and every day is different according to her priorities and motivations.   A stride out  in the woods is included most days.   This wonderful lady became withdrawn and lethargic a few months ago.  The usual safeguarding took place but knowing her as well as we do, we were persistent and worked closely with the family.  We eventually uncovered begging emails in her inbox.

Since her memory is a challenge, she had feelings of shame and she was made very sad without being able to recall why.  She actually lost nothing monetary. What she lost was her will to live at the time. She couldn’t be bothered to get up, draw the curtains or eat, let alone go out and enjoy her surroundings.   She lost all her smile.

Mercifully, she has bounced back completely but she was robbed of several weeks of well being.

With this in mind,  when we were approached with this blog idea from UK family-run company Olympic Stairlifts, we agreed it was vital that older people and their carers are aware of the most common scams and how to avoid them.  We will provide more guidance as it becomes available. Organisations like Action on Elder abuse do great work in this area.

Keep in mind that anyone can be at risk for their data, their income, their wealth, regular pension or benefit payments.

Elderly people are prone to loneliness and isolation, as well as likely to be living with  impairments which can make them particularly vulnerable members of society. There are many types of elderly fraud, including;

Online dating Fraud Action Fraud revealed that it receives up to 7 reports of dating fraud a day and victims are tricked out of an average £10,000 each. According to Age UK, a quarter of these victims are aged in their fifties or over.

Telemarketing and Internet Fraud  Telephone scams are some of the most common perpetrated against elderly people. This is because older people tend to be more trusting (twice as likely to purchase something over the phone as the national average). The telephone is a good place for scammers to hide because there is no paper trail and no facial recognition.

Online scams target older people adapting to digital technologies.  Pop-up windows, bogus emails and threats of computer virus’ are all common tactics online.

There are other elaborate types of fraud targeted at older people specifically, either online or by telephone or letter

Insurance Fraud  Criminals know that people become more concerned about finances the older they get. Elderly people often want to invest in insurance schemes to avoid hefty medical or nursing home bills and commonly they want to cover their own funeral costs so their families won’t have the burden.

Investment Fraud  With older people’s focus on preparing financially for their future and wills, investment scams like pyramid schemes, fake investment properties, investments in stocks and shares are successful methods of extorting money from older people. Securing tax-free inheritance for loved ones is a common hook.

Charity Fraud  Preying on older peoples’ kind and caring nature is common.    Usually after a natural disaster that has made headlines, but often just randomly. Telemarketers and door-to-door reps will contact seniors and they’ll have a  sense of urgency to encourage credit card payments, often using a trusted charity name  but without producing proof of their identity.

With such a variety of fraud risks,  what signs should you look for and what advice can you take to keep your loved ones safe?

Be More Suspicious: We don’t want to become cynical, untrusting people, and it can be almost impossible to do if it goes against your nature. With scams ever-changing, it means you can’t be prepared for every possible risk so it’s best to learn to question motives more.

Be confident in asking more questions: Ask to see proof of identity and take time before making decisions.  Great advice is to check first! If communication is not expected,  be particularly vigilant about the information. Especially if the person asking for it seems very insistent.

Talk About Money: We talk a lot about making plans in this blog.  It’s important to talk about these issues and be advised on the basics. It’s also important to have the deeper financial conversations, no matter how uncomfortable they might be and consider power of attorney, wills and formalising wishes and expectations.

Talking about funeral arrangements and wills without  embarrassment or sadness.  A credible financial advisor will help manage savings and investment plans properly and discussing plans openly will avoid the kind of secrets and panic that make us vulnerable.

Learn To Surf The Web: The internet can be difficult to navigate even for those of us who have been living and working in a connected world. There are plenty of places to go for free advice, including local community centres and groups who run classes on using computers and  tips to safeguard  people online.

Never give sensitive personal information: Even if it looks like your bank is requesting information or HMRC is updating records, don’t immediately trust incoming requests via email links or pop-ups. Always phone and check. Ask for a second opinion.

Make Friends With The Bank: Thankfully most big banks have an elder fraud initiative like a monitoring service that scans financial accounts and credit reports for suspicious activity and identity theft, alerting customers and their named representatives accordingly.

So offer to attend the bank for advice on their processes. They may have specific advice leaflets or a helpline that you can use when you have concerns, as well as informing you of what questions to expect should they ever call or email.

Make An Emergency Plan: Pressure tactics used in scams on the elderly push for  on the spot decision making.  Practise a delaying response. Tell people that payments and decisions need to be consulted first. “I never make decisions like this straight away” or “I always review these requests with xx”  Threats like this will usually be enough to make the fraudster move on to seek an easier victim.

While it can feel wrong to second-guess a charity or financial institution, it is always better to be safe than sorry.