In London alone last year there were nearly 4,500 reported cases of fraud among the over 65s – an average of 12 reports every day – according to the latest figures from Action Fraud (1). But with many older people reluctant to report this kind of crime, the Charity Age UK is warning that the actual figure is likely to be much higher.
To combat the rise of scams and online fraud affecting older people, Age UK has launched a brand new scams prevention and victim support pilot programme in partnership with Action Fraud and funded by City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder (2).
The new programme will initially be piloted in London with the aim of creating a prevention model that can be rolled out nationally. The programme aims to support older victims, and raise awareness of scams more widely to help empower older people to feel more confident at spotting and avoiding scams. Running over a 12 month period across six London boroughs (3), the programme includes three core elements: awareness raising sessions for an audience of older people, friends and family; one to one sessions for older people who are vulnerable and at risk of scams; and specialist one to one support sessions for older victims.
Although anyone can be scammed, Age UK and Action Fraud are warning that older people – particularly those who live alone or with cognitive impairment – are at greater risk of falling victim to certain scams (4). Financial losses are common, but being scammed can also seriously affect people’s quality of life and wellbeing. Many older people experience a deep sense of shame, embarrassment, depression, social isolation and a decline in physical health, with some even losing their independence following a scam.
Research for Age UK found that around two-fifths of older people across the UK – around five million in total (5) – who believe they have been targeted by scammers didn’t report it to an official channel (6). Over a third (36%) only confided in friends and family, and more than a fifth (22%) admitted they didn’t tell anyone at all because they felt too embarrassed. Of those who did officially report the scam, however, the vast majority reported having a positive experience (7).
To help raise awareness of scams among older people and how to avoid them, Age UK and Action Fraud have produced a new video with broadcast journalist and presenter, Sir Martyn Lewis. The video, which is being released online to coincide with the launch of the new programme, can be viewed here and focuses on identifying and stopping doorstep scams such as rogue traders. It also outlines five simple steps which can be applied to a range of common scams affecting older people, including: postal scams (e.g. lotteries and prize draws), pensions and investment fraud, phone scams and cold calls, and email and online dating scams.
STOP – Never do anything you don’t want to or make any decisions on the spot
CHECK – Always check their credentials
ASK – Always ask someone you trust for a second opinion
MINE – Do not give away personal information
SHARE – Share your experience with others to lower their risk of being scammed
Commenting on the importance of raising awareness of scams, Sir Martyn Lewis said:
‘It is really shocking that older people are so often targeted by fraudsters yet most people think it will never happen to them. Taking simple steps to avoid becoming a victim of a scam can make all the difference. There are many ways to avoid becoming a victim. Ask someone you trust for a second opinion before committing to anything, refuse to give out sensitive information such as a PIN number, and share your experience with others so they don’t fall for the same scam.’
John Edwards, Head of Service Delivery at Age UK, said:
‘Scams can have a devastating emotional and financial impact on older people. Everyone has the right to feel comfortable, safe and secure at home, yet there are an increasing number of sophisticated scams designed to cheat people of their money, empty their bank account or steal their identity.
‘We are very excited about this new pilot programme which we hope will not only raise awareness of scams but empower older Londoners to feel safer, more secure and confident, and ultimately reduce the numbers of older people becoming victims of fraud.
‘We would urge people to be vigilant and remember, if there is any doubt about the authenticity of an offer or piece of correspondence, do not respond and report it to the authorities immediately.’
Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said:
‘Action Fraud reports show that those over the age of 65 are often targeted by fraudsters and that the consequences of being defrauded for older people are often harsh and long-lasting.
‘Fraudsters use cruel tactics to defraud their victims with no regard to their age or circumstance and they will often seek out those most vulnerable in society. These criminals do not think about their victim’s financial and social wellbeing and they will often leave them with nothing.
‘The video released by Action Fraud and Age UK helps to highlight the problem of doorstep fraudsters and how to protect yourself.”
Alison Gowman, Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust committee, said:
‘Fraud, especially cyber fraud, is an escalating problem and older people are often the victims.
‘We must do all we can to stop some of the most vulnerable members of society being targeted by scammers and losing hard earned savings. We hope this new project will also allow us to really clamp down on the amount of cyber scams older people are falling victim to.
‘City Bridge Trust is committed to tackling disadvantage across the capital and making London a fairer and better place to live.’
Age UK offers free information and advice for anyone who is worried about being scammed, including free guides Avoiding scams, Staying safe and Internet security among others. For further information visit www.ageuk.org.uk/avoidscams or contact Age UK Advice on Freephone 0800 169 65 65.