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Unfortunately, older people are an easy target for criminals. Official figures collected and analysed in 2019 showed that an older person becomes the victim of fraud every 40 seconds. Around one in 12 (8%) of respondents to the 2019 survey reported being the victim of fraud in the previous year, equivalent to more than 800,000 senior citizens in England and Wales. In this post we look at the ways criminals target the elderly and what can be done to protect them.
The 2019 survey, commissioned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, concluded that becoming a crime victim often had a long lasting and significant impact on targeted seniors. For some older people their experiences resulted in heightened fearfulness, feelings of insecurity and an increased awareness of their own vulnerability.
Previous research carried out by Age UK determined that 43% of those aged 65 and over believed they had been targeted by fraudsters at some point. The assessment showed how older people with higher incomes along with those who lived alone were most likely to report having been the victim of fraud.
Many older people, especially those who live alone, rely on their telephones. Unfortunately, the telephone has long been the communications device of choice for unscrupulous fraudsters who like to target older people. They use increasingly creative and cunning scams to trick their victims into handing over money or personal information that can be used to scam them.
In most phone scams criminals pose as employees from a bank, internet service provider, local authority or another source the victim is likely to trust, such as Amazon. In recent years scammers, who may be located in other countries, use automated telephone calling systems to pose as HMRC or other trustworthy sources. There have been cases in which scammers have even posed as police officers and local GP surgeries to elicit what they want from their victims.
Scammers posing as bank employees will often convince their targets to hand over account details by telling them there has been an urgent security breach. And internet service provider related scams will often tell their victims their computers have been infected, prompting them to download and install software to fix the issue. When this software is installed it provides the scammers with access to their victim’s computer from which they steal personal information including passwords and account login details. Telephone scammers will often attempt to create a sense of urgency and panic that can cause victims to respond without thinking.
Luckily there are many ways to avoid falling victim to telephone scams. If you have an elderly neighbour or relative it would be worthwhile providing them with some practical guidance and advice.
Don’t answer the phone. This is by far the easiest way to avoid telephone scams. If the telephone number of the caller isn’t recognised or is hidden, simply don’t pick up the phone. Legitimate callers will generally leave a message or try alternative contact methods such as email or snail mail.
Many telephone scammers use fake telephone numbers or enable ‘private caller ID’ to conceal their telephone identity. Most elderly people already know the telephone numbers of their family and friends and should simply ignore calls from unknown or hidden numbers.
Never hand over bank details or any personal information. As noted, scammers will sometimes pose as bank representatives allegedly dealing with an urgent security breach, prompting their targeted victims to hand over their account details. They may even attempt to use a courier (see courier fraud below) to come to their home and collected the allegedly hacked bank card. Equipped with the bank card, account details and other personal information scammers have all they need to empty the bank account and potentially engage in further fraud.
It`s important for older people to know that their banks will never ask for account details over the telephone and they will never use a courier service to retrieve their bank cards. If a caller claims to be from a bank and requests account details or personal information - hang up the telephone immediately.
Never provide access to your computer. An increase in telephone based scams in which fraudsters pose as representatives from internet service providers has been noted. These fraudsters often convincingly tell their victims they have detected ‘unusual activity’ or malware (viruses) on the victim’s computer. They tell their unsuspecting victims that the issue can be easily resolved while they remain on the telephone - simply by downloading and installing a piece of remote access software.
This all seems entirely plausible and even helpful to many of their victims who go ahead and install what is effectively a piece of malware that gives the scammers a back door onto their computers or mobile phones. This then enables the scammer to access personal details, intercept account details and potentially gain access to their victims bank accounts - and more.
Older people need to know their internet service providers will never contact them in this way to tell them about alleged viruses on their computers and they will never be asked to install any software to fix issues.
Ask questions. Telephone scammers hate to be asked questions and often have very little knowledge of the organisations they are impersonating. A technique used by some people who are routinely plagued by scam callers posing as BT Openreach is to respond saying they too work for the same employer and asking to speak to their supervisor, or mentioning specific (fake) names. This generally results in scammers hanging up immediately. Taking a moment to ask a few pertinent questions is an effective tactic to prevent telephone fraud.
Hang up! It is widely recommended that as soon as it is clear a call is from a scammer - the call should be ended. If possible, their number should be blocked and possibly shared with the police along with any local neighbourhood watch group.
If a scam call was received on a mobile device it`s advisable to turn the device off completely and then restart the telephone as some scammers use systems that enable them to remain on the telephone line even after you think the call has ended.
Courier fraud can take various forms but typically a victim receives a telephone call from a fraudster claiming to be from their bank or maybe a police officer. They may be told their bank card has been compromised or they may even be asked to withdraw money from their account. Scammers then send couriers to the victim’s homes to collect their bank cards or possibly cash.
One scammer tactic involves getting victims to purchase gold, allegedly to support police investigations. Fraudsters then send couriers to collect the gold from the victim’s homes.
Fraudsters exploit the trust older, more vulnerable people tend to afford to the police force and their banks. It is worth noting the average amount lost by individual victims to this type of fraud is around £5000.
Tell tale signs of attempted courier fraud include callers posing as police officers, bank employees or other trustworthy sources asking for personal information. These people and organisations will never ask for any personal details.
ActionFraud recommends a very simple ‘take five’ procedure to `pause and assess` to stay safe from fraud. It involves 3 key steps like this.
Stop: Take moment to stop and think. While scammers will attempt to make victims think they must act with urgency - don’t.
Challenge: As noted, only criminals will attempt to make people feel panic and rush them into making rash decisions. It`s always worthwhile challenging anyone who is pushing for urgent action.
Protect: If you or someone you know has been targeted by criminals - always report it.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales published by the Office for National Statistics for 2021 tells us that 5.2 million cases of fraud took place by the end of that year. Many criminal organisations are known to have pivoted their focus away from physical crime, toward internet scams, targeting unwary web users. And as increasing numbers of elderly people engage in internet shopping, banking and other online services the number who fall victim to internet fraud is increasing.
Cybercrime can take many forms and by far the best way to combat this crime is through education and raising awareness of the most common forms of attack.
Already noted in relation to phone scams and courier fraud, identity theft is a growing problem. Armed with a victim’s personal ID information, scammers can buy things, claim benefits and engage in other nefarious activities. Fraudsters will often obtain the ID information by hacking or phishing emails and then use it to gain loans, apply for passports, take out multiple telephone contracts and take over existing user accounts. The impact on victims can be enormous and costly.
Using strong account passwords along with two-factor-authentication (2FA) is recommended.
Phishing emails are specifically designed to get recipients to click on shared links or attachments. Once the link or attachment is clicked a piece of malware is installed onto the victim’s computer enabling the fraudsters to steal vital ID information.
As a rule - don’t click on links or attachments in any emails that aren’t from known sources. And always make certain anti-virus protection software is up to date and is switched on to provide internet and email security.
Hacking refers to someone gaining access to accounts or systems they don’t have permission to enter. Hacking is often achieved by using software to guess the weak login details used by some internet users.
A common form of hacking attack suffered by many businesses is known as ransomware. Hackers gain access to enterprise computer systems and then hold their vital business data resources to ransom. Around 50% of businesses and 25% or charities reported cyber-security breaches in 2020.
Rigorously strong passwords along with two-factor-authentication should always be used.
Door to door callers are not unusual in our towns and cities, but tend to be less common in rural areas. Often they are perfectly legitimate door-to-door salespeople, charity collectors or others, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Many older people are naturally friendly and tend to trust before being suspicious. It’s often not easy to tell if a friendly caller is genuine or if they have criminal intent. Here are some practical tips that older people should be encouraged to use to protect themselves and deal with visitors.
Purchase scams have massively escalated due to the increase in online shopping. Basically, this form of scam tricks people into purchasing products or services that don’t exist or which don’t match their descriptions or the expectations of purchasers.
Items are often advertised via well known auction sites or social media with images taken from genuine seller`s or manufacturer`s sources. Criminals also use websites which are cloned copies of reputable sites, often with minimal changes to the real site`s URL, to trick victims into thinking they’re purchasing from a reputable source. Scammers will sometimes request payment, or part-payment, in advance and issue fake receipts and invoices to convince buyers they are making a genuine purchase.
Scams have included pictures of doll-sized furniture, inaccurately described on auction sites and purchased by people who thought they were getting full-size versions. Also, buyers have been conned into paying deposits for pets that don’t exist and for other popular items such as games consoles.
If an online offer appears to be too good to be true then it should be viewed with suspicion and thoroughly investigated before parting with any money. If a seller requests payment by bank transfer instead of using a secure online payment gateway, that’s another signal a deal may in fact be a scam. And always look carefully at website URLs and the emails exchanged with online vendors. The small padlock security icon should always be showing in the address bar and emails should always be from the vendor’s URL or the payment service used (such as Paypal).
The Pensions Regulator along with the Financial Conduct Authority have issued warnings about pensions scams and fraud. Since many people over 55 now have greater access to their pension funds criminals are taking advantage. Victims can suffer the loss of some or even all of their pension pots and be faced with large tax bills.
Scammers use many of the tactics described in this post. They may have credible looking websites with customer testimonials and fake accreditations. They may present attractive, almost irresistible offers to encourage people to transfer their pension pot to them. They might then invest the funds in unusual, high-risk investments such as overseas property, or they may simply steal the money outright.
Cold calling was previously the pension scammers favoured method of approach. But since the introduction of legislation to ban pensions cold-calling came into force in 2019 scammers have changed their tactics. These days pension scammers tend to use other methods of approach, such as social media.
The pensions regulator publishes excellent guidance in how to spot and avoid pensions scams. They note that scammer tactics include:
Their advice is to:
Home security is vital to enable our older citizens to feel safe and secure in their homes. Luckily there are many practical steps that can be taken to make their homes more secure and prevent them from becoming crime victims. Here are some primary recommendations.
Most burglars gain access to targeted premises via windows and doors, so It`s vital that they are as secure as possible. Make certain the hinges and fittings are robust and always in a good state of repair. And importantly, make sure all windows and doors are fitted with high quality locks which are secured whenever the property is empty and at night.
It`s worthwhile paying attention to perimeter security, especially around homes in remote locations that can potentially be targeted by criminals with little risk of being seen. Ensure all fences, gates and hedges are always in a good state of repair and consider plants that will deter intruders. Gates should ideally be locked, especially when nobody is at home.
It`s also important to pay attention to what’s left outdoors such as garden furniture, wheelie bins and ladders. Most burglars are opportunist criminals who will use whatever is available to perpetrate their crimes, so don’t make it easy for them.
Installing motion triggered lighting and possibly security cameras, along with appropriate warning signage, makes a huge contribution toward home security. Home security camera systems, with illumination, are becoming increasingly affordable making them ideal for bolstering security around homes of senior citizens, especially those who live alone.
Never trust the services offered by unsolicited callers. People may call offering to clear guttering, tidy gardens, cut the grass or maybe repair a driveway. As a rule - never use the services of unknown tradespeople. Always use tradespeople and services recommended by those who can be trusted.
We’ve previously highlighted how Neighbourhood Watch schemes can be enormously beneficial to communities. These schemes and groups play a valuable role in keeping our older citizens secure and enabling them to feel safe in their homes.
If there isn’t a neighbourhood watch scheme in your area why not set one up? And in the interests of keeping your elderly neighbours safe and secure, why not help them to be more aware of risks and take appropriate precautions to make certain they aren’t targeted by unscrupulous criminals.
If you have any questions about security or safety for senior citizens or if you have any special requirements remember that we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide free, expert advice.
This message was added on Thursday 14th July 2022
Need Help or Advice?
Call the Insight team
01273 475 500