July is ‘Scams Awareness Month’ and leading UK charity Independent Age is using it to highlight how scammers regularly and repeatedly target vulnerable older people.
The charity has also launched a new, free advice guide, called “Scamwise: Spotting, avoiding and reporting scams”. Read on to find out how you can get hold of a copy.
To raise awareness of scammers and their impact on older people, Independent Age is highlighting the real-life case of 91-year-old woman, with the backing of her family. All names in this case study have been changed to protect the identities of those involved, but the facts are accurate.
Despite her age, Agnes is fiercely independent and lives alone, but has fallen victim to scammers several times and lost tens of thousands of pounds. Agnes was first targeted by scammers in 2014, who her family believe were operating from highly sophisticated call centres in different countries, trying to sell her shares that were actually worth nothing.
Her daughter, Catherine, and son-in-law, Rodney, only realised that Agnes was being targeted when she rang them to ask to borrow some money, saying she had to make a payment on her shares. They found out that she had spent all her savings buying worthless shares, with the family estimating she had spent thousands of pounds.
Rodney said: “Scammers are leaching money drip by drip from my mother-in-law. They are crooks and wretched people. They are disgusting. The problem is that when she dies she wants to leave something to her grandchildren. I feel powerless to help her.”
Rodney immediately reported the scam to the police, then found out that Agnes had received a call from someone offering to buy back her shares, if she made a payment to “release the funds”. The couple knew this was part of the fraud and tried to persuade Agnes not to send any more money.
“But she sits at home and talks through the calls that people make to her,” said Rodney. “She talks to anyone that phones her.”
And Agnes’ problems didn’t end there: falling victim to one scam meant she was then targeted by more scammers after being put on what is known as a “suckers list”.
“After that came a raft of companies trying to flog her stuff by mail and phone,” said Rodney. “They’d tell her ‘You’ve won a house’ or ‘Congratulations! You have won £15,500’, ‘You will be lucky’, ‘There’s a cheque waiting for you’, or ‘Act now to see if you are a winner’. None of these ‘prizes’ were ever going to arrive. They are scams. It was so frustrating trying to communicate that to her.”
He feels frustrated that these “cheque with your name on it” scams have been exposed on TV and by newspapers over the years, yet they still carry on. Rodney and Catherine only found out by chance that Agnes had been the target of these scams when they discovered she was losing £600 a month. At first, they thought her account had been compromised, but found out she had been sending cheques to these companies to buy items; often she didn’t even know if the things she had bought had been delivered.
“She tells me she is buying the stuff for her friends in the village. She is being secretive about what she’s doing,” said Rodney. “We have tried to sit down and talk to her about it. It’s tragic, scammers are taking advantage of her. Her mail is awash with junk mail. I think, at the end of the day, whatever money she has left in her account, it is her right to do with it what she wants, but these people are villains.”
An estimated half-a-million older people in the UK have fallen victim to a scam, but the real number could be much higher as many people are embarrassed to admit they’ve been conned. Although anyone can be the victim of a scam, older people are more vulnerable because scams often target people who live alone, are at home during the day, have more savings and valuables and are willing to talk to fraudsters. In 2015, the Financial Ombudsman found that 80% of phone scam victims were aged over 55 and 65% of doorstep scam victims were over 75.
Lucy Harmer, Director of Services at Independent Age, said: “Agnes’ story is tragic, and even with support and advice from her family, they say she still ended up as a victim. For older people who think they may have been scammed, it’s important to remember that anyone can be a victim of a crime and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. The most important thing is to report it so you can get the support you need and to help prevent other people being targeted by the same scam.
“It’s also good to be aware of the tactics scammers use and learn how to protect yourself. There are a few, simple things you can do, such as hanging up on cold callers, or registering with the Mailing Preference Service to reduce the amount of junk mail you get, and never giving out personal information. You can find this and more information about scams in Independent Age’s new, free ‘Scamwise’ advice guide.”
The guide is designed to help people like Agnes and their families recognise scams and know what to do if they spot one or if they think they have been the victim of a scam, as well as giving advice on how to protect themselves from being scammed. You can download a free copy from the Independent Age website by clicking here, or call the charity’s free helpline on 0800 319 6789.