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Which scams are targeting the elderly?

We look at common and latest scams targeting the elderly and tips to avoid them.

December 06, 2022

Elderly man online

Anyone can be a victim of scammers, but unfortunately, older people are often considered to be vulnerable, which means they are more likely than others to be targeted with this type of attempted crime.

Research indicates that around one in eight people aged 65 and over are victims of fraud every year, which is around 800,000 people in England and Wales.

The elderly are often thought to be an easy target because they might be very trusting of strangers, or not as savvy with technology as younger generations. To help protect older loved ones from this kind of crime, it’s essential to understand the risks and know how to best guard against them.

In this article, we look at some of the latest scams going around that often seem to target the elderly and offer some tips for how to avoid becoming a victim of one of these crimes.

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Phone scams targeting the elderly

There are many kinds of phone scams that can be very easy to fall victim to. A key reason for this is that callers have some of your information and can be very convincing and professional sounding. Some of the most common include:

Bank phone scams

This usually involves someone calling that claims they are from the fraud team of your bank.

They will tell you that there is a problem, and someone is trying to access your account to steal your money. Often, this kind of scammer uses a technology that enables it to appear like they are calling from your bank’s official phone number, so what they are saying can sound very believable.

As part of the scam, they will usually ask you to move your money into a new account that they say they will set up for you to ‘protect’ it.

However, you would instead be moving it into an account controlled by them and the funds would be lost. Your real bank would never ask you to do this.

Mobile phone scam

Mobile phone or computer repair phone scams

Another common phone scam is where someone claiming to be from an IT or computer firm calls and tells you that your computer or mobile phone has a virus that needs fixing.

They will ask you to download and install software or an app, sometimes this might cost money and sometimes they might offer this for free.

However, instead of this fixing your device, it will install spyware or a programme that gives them control of your computer or phone, and from this they can access not only your personal details, but sometimes bank or card details so they can steal money from you.

Real IT companies would never operate in this way and while a real helpdesk might need to access your device remotely, they would never call you out of the blue to initiate this.


Pension or investment phone scams

This kind of scam usually involves a company contacting you out of the blue to tell you that their pension or investment product will give much better returns than your own plan.

They may recommend that you move your money or savings to a single investment and usually put on lots of pressure for you to make an immediate decision.

They may even send a courier to your home with paperwork for you to sign. If you follow the advice they give, it can be possible lose a significant amount of money or even your whole pension fund to this kind of scammer.

A regulated financial adviser would never call you in this manner or put pressure on you to make a quick decision about an investment or pension scheme.


Tax or national insurance phone scams

Another common type of scam is where you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from HMRC, who will either say that you are due a refund or will say that you owe money.

Either way, they want to get personal details from you, such as bank details and credit or debit card numbers in order to defraud you.

You might also be left a phone message by an automated voice saying that your national insurance number has been ‘compromised’ and to call them back, at which point they will try to steal your details and your money.

HMRC would never contact you in this way and would never ask for bank details or any other financial information over the phone.


Text and WhatsApp scams

Just like getting calls out of the blue can be suspicious, the same goes for text messages, social media messages and WhatsApp messages sent to your smartphone.

A common scam is for someone to pretend to be a family member of yours but they will say they have lost or broken their phone so they are contacting you from a number that is not their usual one.

They will usually have a story about why they are using another number and ask you for some money, providing some bank details or another way for you to send money to them.

Unfortunately, it will be a scammer pretending to be a loved one of yours and any money you send will be going to the criminal and not to your family member.

Another common text scam is to receive a message from a number claiming to be the Royal Mail or a parcel delivery company saying that there is a small charge to pay for them to deliver something to you. There will be a link included. However, using that link and filling out a form enables scammers to steal your details and if you give them financial information, they could have access to your card or bank details and use this to steal from you.


Elderly scam victim

How to avoid phone scams

Some quick tips to avoid phone scams include:

  • Never reveal personal details or any financial information over the phone to someone that has called you. Hang up the phone if they try to get this kind of information.
  • If they ask security questions for the company or account that they say they are calling in relation to, try giving incorrect details on purpose. If they don’t pick up that you’ve given them wrong information, they can’t be using the genuine organisation’s system.
  • Call the organisation that the caller said they were from. Find the number yourself (don’t use a number the caller gave you or the number they rang from) and call them to check whether they have been in contact with you.
  • If anyone tries to pressure you into doing something on a phone call, such as setting up an account urgently or telling you that the offer has a time limit or your account is at risk if you don’t act immediately, they are likely to be a scammer.
  • If you get a text, social media or WhatsApp message from someone you know, contact them in another way to check it’s really from them. For example, if they message you and tell you that they have a new phone number, call the old number to check in case it’s a scammer.
  • Never click on a link that someone sends in a message to your phone as it’s likely to take you to a scam website that is set up to look official but will steal your details, and usually your money too.


Online scams targeting the elderly

More and more essential services and communications now happen or are managed online, which can be challenging for some older people, who perhaps aren’t always as comfortable with technology as others may be.

Online scams are becoming increasingly common as people do more day-to-day things online, so it’s important to be vigilant.

Some of the most common ways of scamming the elderly online include:

Email scams

Email scams usually involve someone emailing you with a message that you’ve won something or that urgent action is required to stop something bad from happening, like a problem with your bank account, a tax issue or similar.

They will usually include a link in the email, but if you click this, you’re likely to end up on a scam website that is set up to look like the real one - but it’s not real at all.

The email might also have a file attached that they want you to download, but this will usually be spyware software that can infect your computer. They might also ask you to reply to them with bank details or other sensitive personal or financial information.

No genuine company will ask for this kind of information over email and they won’t contact you by email threatening that something bad will happen if you don’t act immediately.


Scam websites

Fake websites can be dangerous in a couple of different ways. They can be a website that is set up to look like an official site for an organisation or even a government department, but really they’re just trying to get your details and financial information so they can steal from you.

Common examples of this might be a website that looks like your bank’s site, or a website that looks like it will enable you to renew your passport or driving license, but they charge you a fee for a service that the government provides for free.

Other websites might not be pretending to look like another site, but they might simply be offering services or products that they cannot provide, so will take your money for an order but never deliver what you have paid for.

Online dating scams

Sometimes also called relationship scams, online dating scams can target older people because they might be especially vulnerable, especially if they are widowed or lonely and might not be as tech savvy as other groups.

Scammers will usually create a fake profile with someone else’s pictures (usually stolen from someone’s social media accounts without their knowledge) and build a ‘relationship’ with someone over on an online dating website or sometimes on a platform like Facebook.

This can sometimes start with a message and might also include emails, texts and phone calls. However, at some point, the scammer (who is pretending to be someone else) will ask for money in some form or another.

It can often take many weeks or months of conversations before they ask for money, so the victim believes they can trust the person they’re in a relationship with.


How to avoid online scams

Online scams can sometimes be very difficult to spot, but there are some measures that you can take to help protect yourself and some signs to look out for. These include:

  • Looking for any signs in an email you receive that it could be a scammer. Scam emails often include spelling mistakes, use strange phrases or have other errors, like capital letters in strange places.
  • Ignoring any requests in emails for personal details or login details to be sent, such as passwords or your bank details.
  • Not clicking on a link sent by email. Instead, going to the website yourself by typing it into your internet browser and searching for the information you want once on the genuine website.
  • If someone that you have met online has asked you for money, even if their reason for this seems genuine, this is highly likely to be a scammer and not who you think you are talking to. Break off contact and talk to a family member or friend about what has happened.


Elderly scammer

Other types of scams targeting the elderly

As well as phone and online scams, there are other ways that older people can sometimes be targeted. These include:

Bogus callers

Bogus callers will turn up on the doorstep and offer things such as:

  • Home repairs or services that are overpriced and usually not needed in the first place.
  • Products for the home, such as costly furniture or even mobility aids, which are overpriced and usually poor quality, or may not even exist at all.

Sometimes, a bogus caller might try to get into the victim’s home to steal personal details, property or put lots of pressure on them to hand over money in return for a product or service that they don’t need.

These people can be very convincing and often come across as very friendly and helpful, so it can sometimes be difficult to tell that they are scammers.

There are some simple steps that can be taken to help protect from this type of scam, which include:

  • Checking ID badges at the door. If necessary, ask the caller to wait outside, then find the phone number of the company they say they are from (Google the company for an extra credibility check if you can) and calling them to see if this person works for them. Don’t use a number provided by the person at the door.
  • Tell the person to come back another time. They usually won’t return as they are looking for an easy opportunity.
  • Having a sign in the front window saying that you will not buy from doorstep callers. This might not always stop them from knocking but means that you can tell them more easily that you’re not interested in what they are selling.

Find out more about protecting elderly loved ones from bogus callers.

Postal scams

While not as common as they used to be, getting something in the mail or posted by someone through the letterbox from a scammer still happens from time to time.

This is usually telling you that you have won a competition or prize of high value that needs to be claimed. They will usually provide you with a phone number to call or a website address to visit.

The phone line will usually be a premium rate number that costs a lot of money to call and there is no prize to claim; they just want to steal your personal and financial details so they can defraud you. A website set up by these scammers has the same purpose.

If you receive something through your letterbox that looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

If you’re not sure, ask a family member or trusted friend or neighbour what they think about what you have received before doing anything to respond to it.


General tips for avoiding scams that are going around

Getting someone else’s opinion on any situation where a scam could be happening is really important, as they can look at what is going on with fresh eyes. Speaking to a trusted friend, neighbour, or someone in your family can help you avoid most scams.

Another option, especially if you live alone and don’t always have someone close by that you can ask for advice, is to use a personal alarm service if you are in the middle of a situation that you think might be a scam. At the press of a button on a wearable pendant alarm or alarm watch for the elderly, you can be connected to an emergency resolution team that is available 24/7. They can help you to determine if you are in the process of being scammed and can give you advice on what to do if you are.

Personal alarms are useful for a wide range of reasons and can help older people live a safer and more independent life in their own home. They can also bring real peace of mind to loved ones when they can’t be with their older relative or friend, knowing that help is on hand anytime it’s needed.

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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