As we’ve seen all too often in the media, older people can be particularly vulnerable to telephone and internet scams. Criminals follow wealth and older people tend to be very good at saving for retirement or owning equity in their homes to pass on to their children and grandchildren.
Low-income adults, too, can be equally at risk for their regular pension or benefit payments.
Unfortunately, elderly people are also more prone to loneliness and isolation, as well as physical or mental capacity impairment, making them particularly vulnerable members of society.
One such type of scam is 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.
But there are many other types of elderly fraud, including;
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). However, this is a good place for scammers to hide because there is no paper trail and no facial recognition, making them very difficult to trace.
Online scams work similarly, however they target older people not so much because of their trusting nature, but because of their slow speed to adapt to new digital technologies and their lack of awareness of online risks. Pop-up windows, bogus emails and threats of computer virus’ are all common tactics for extorting money from the elderly online.
There are also more elaborate types of fraud targeted at older people, either online or by telephone or letter;
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 while they grieve.
With older people’s focus on preparing financially for their future and their children’s inheritance, investment scams like pyramid schemes and fake investment properties are traditionally successful methods of extorting money from older people looking to secure tax-free inheritance for their families.
Preying on older people’s kind and caring nature is possibly the worst of the scammers’ tactics. Usually after a natural disaster that has made headlines, but often just randomly, telemarketers and door-to-door reps will contact seniors with a sense of urgency to make credit card payments, often using a charity name the person may know and trust, but without producing proof of their identity.
With such a variety of fraud risks for modern day older people, UK family-run company Olympic Stairlifts felt it was vital that older people and their carers are aware of the most common scams and how to avoid them.
So 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. However with scams ever-changing, it means you can’t be prepared for every possible risk.
Instead 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 so that research can be done. Advise your older relatives that if they receive a communication they weren’t expecting, to be particularly vigilant about the information they share. Especially if the person asking for it seems very insistent.
Talk About Money: It’s important to talk with older people about these issues so that they can be advised on the basics, such as never sharing their bank pin code with anyone by telephone. But it’s also important to have the deeper financial conversations, no matter how uncomfortable they might be for you.
So talk about funeral arrangements. Ask to support your elderly person with any investments or other financial services they might be seeking. Let them know that they can run things by you or someone they trust without feeling shame or embarrassment. You could also source a credible financial advisor to help them manage their savings and investment plans if you don’t feel clued up enough to guide them.
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. But there are plenty of places to go for free advice, including local community centres and groups who will often run government-funded “Silver Surfer” classes on using computers for older people.
The main tips to share with an elderly relative include never giving sensitive personal information online, even if it looks like your bank is requesting it. Similarly, don’t immediately trust incoming requests via email links or pop-ups. Always phone and check with the company first. If you make the call then you know you can trust the person on the other end.
Make Friends With The Bank: Thankfully most big banks are now aware of all these issues and many will 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 families accordingly.
So offer to attend the bank with your older relative and get advice from them on their processes, as well as offering your contact details when any red flag checks are taking place. 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: One of the tactics used repeatedly in online, telephone and door-to-door selling scams on the elderly comes down to a simple matter of pressure. They can in essence be bullied into making on the spot decisions and exchanging money, sometimes for things they neither need nor want.
If an elderly person doesn’t have the confidence to turn such people away, give them the “out” that they must clear all purchases with you, or another family member, and telling the caller that they must call and pass any payments by you first. The threat of this will usually be enough to make the fraudster move on to seek an easier victim.
Ultimately, frauds of the nature listed above – particularly those involving criminals from overseas -invariably result in the money never being recovered. This makes prevention even more important.
And while it can feel wrong to second-guess a charity or financial institution, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Savings are vital for older people to live comfortably and happy in the knowledge that they can look after themselves and their families. But time is not on their side to recuperate big losses. So while you can’t protect them from every danger, by following this advice, you can certainly reduce the likelihood of them falling victim to a scam.