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Top Tips on Helping Elderly Parents Avoid Scams

Top Tips on Helping Elderly Parents Avoid Scams

Let’s talk about scams… and importantly how to avoid scams, or at least reduce the likelihood of your parents or elderly relatives becoming victims.

avoid being scammed

How many times have you had people on the phone trying to sell you a one-off deal, or an email saying you have won a £1 million prize – just send over your bank details and the prize money will be deposited by return?

We know these offers are too good to be true and just put down the phone or delete the email.   Sadly, it’s big business for the fraudsters who are increasingly sophisticated.  They know just how to create stories with an incentive that doesn’t seem too outrageous to a target audience of elderly people to persuade them to hand over money or even their bank account details.

But there are steps you and your elderly relatives can take to reduce the risk of being scammed.

This page explains:

Coronavirus scams

While we would love to believe that a crisis like the coronavirus brings out the best in people, there are always people looking to take advantage.

avoid being scammed

Elderly and vulnerable residents self-isolating are at risk of being exploited by strangers and cold callers posing as helpful neighbours in order to scam them, the Local Government Association has warned.

Fraudsters are playing on the fear created by the coronavirus and the need for the elderly and vulnerable to reduce social contact.

It is urging residents not to accept services from strangers or cold callers – whether in person, on the phone or online – who offer to run errands, collect prescriptions and do shopping and ask for cash upfront, or a credit card and its PIN.  

Councils have already seen a number of coronavirus-related scams involving fraudsters knocking on the doors of the elderly and impersonating either council officers or health officials offering mandatory coronavirus testing. The intention of these fraudsters is to manipulate and gain the trust of the elderly and vulnerable in self-isolation simply to execute more elaborate scams, gain access to their property or access their savings. 

It’s time to stress again to elderly relatives that it’s fine not to answer the door to someone you aren’t sure of. If there is a trusted neighbour, tell them to say to the caller that: “Mr Jones at Number 22 is handling all this for me…”

Other potential scams include criminals claiming to sell you things like protective face masks and even hand sanitiser. The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau says that it is identifying dozens of reports of fraud where coronavirus was mentioned – costing the victims a total of more than £800,000.

Types of scam and what to watch out for

  • Unsolicited emails and texts. Be careful of anything unexpected that claims to be from an organisation such as a bank, BT, Sky, PayPal, Microsoft, the BBC and other large, trusted organisations. At the moment, particularly watch out for unsolicited emails claiming to come from health bodies such as the NHS, the WHO and the CDC. 
  • No name Legitimate emails from services you have accounts with will always address you by name.
  • Poor spelling and errors in grammar.
  • phishing’ ‘dishing’ and ‘smishing’ messages are designed to scare you into clicking on their links. ‘Phishing’ is is a type of financial fraud where criminals defraud, dupe or mislead people by email. ‘Vishing’ is over the phone where scammers will try to persuade people to share information by posing as bank staff or other financial service employees. ‘Smishing’ is SMS phishing where text messages are sent trying to encourage people to pay money out or click on suspicious links. Sometimes attackers try to get victims on the phone by sending a text message asking them to call a number, in order to persuade them further.
  • Fake Domains. Scammers often set up website addresses that look legitimate in order to trick you. If in doubt, check.
  • Rogue Traders. We’ve all heard stories of unscrupulous traders knocking on old people’s doors, claiming that work needs to be done, then swiftly making off with hundreds of pounds without having done any work.  
  • Distraction thieves. These people make a pretext of calling at someone’s home with the aim of getting inside; sometimes by asking for a glass of water. Often working in pairs, one will keep the occupant talking, while the other searches the house.
  • Always, always ask for ID if there is an unexpected caller. Legitimate companies and organisations will expect this. And feel free to close the door and telephone the company to check before letting anyone in.

Postal scams affecting the elderly

Common postal scams, which can cause huge distress and massive financial loss to the elderly and vulnerable include bogus debt letters, lottery scams and hard luck story scams. Make sure you advise your elderly relatives against responding, unless they are sure it’s genuine.

Some appeals can be particularly difficult to ignore – like the picture of an animal or a child in crisis and pain. We all want to help! However, marketing is very clever and the scammers are wanting to draw you in.

Peter lives alone following the death of his wife, quickly followed by the death of his beloved dog. He wanted to donate some money to the charity that supported him and his wife through difficult times. After donating a large sum, he began to be inundated with leaflets and pleading letters which the kindly soul found hard to ignore. He then began to donate to all the charities, small amounts to begin with, but as his donations increased so did the appeals.

He showed me a charity that had sent him a letter with the picture of a dog that was identical to the one he had recently lost, appealing for money to rehome the pathetic creature or its demise would be guaranteed. This was too much for Peter and he wrote out a substantial cheque. He never found out what happened to the dog. Those appeals stopped but others continued. Peter was slowly and systematically being drained of all his savings just by being kind. He would not be advised, these cannot be described as scams, just preying on the vulnerable. Peter had capacity and therefore had ‘choice’ to do what he wanted to do with his money. His family despaired as they watched his savings fritter away, he became more and more upset by the demands for money, but as he had started he felt he couldn’t stop.

You can take your relative off as many lists as possible by registering the MPS (Mail preference service) Encourage them to put all the post in a separate box, so that they may like to chat to you about before responding. Make out that you are genuinely interested rather than cautious or critical. Remember your relative may be lonely and the ‘post’ is a lifeline to contact. It keeps the postman coming to the door and they feel needed.

How scammers find personal details

Did you know…..

  • Every time you fill out a competition form, warranty registration card or an online service, you may be opening the flood gates for unsolicited phone calls.
  • You may have store and loyalty cards, ordered a food delivery service where you have given out your mobile for text updates. If you give out your phone number on line, your number will end up in someone else’s hands.
  • A growing number of apps are only interested in harvesting your personal information. Even if you don’t think that you have openly given it to them, so check the Terms of use or Terms of service and make sure you know how your data will be used.
  • Computers are fast and smart, looking at billions of data instantly, in the blink of an eye they know all about you, where you live, your income, your likes and your dislikes all obtained from ‘Likes, Pins and Tweets. You will be surprised just how many companies claim to have information about you.
  • Some random phone calls are automated…annoying isn’t it? However, the process of dialling your number is also very random and is done where zillions of numbers are dialled. If you get one, it’s just bad luck!
  • There is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ if you sign up to that 25% off on your order, there is a price to pay. To be eligible they will ask you detailed questions about your lifestyle, your income etc. This information is then sold on.
  • 0800, 888 or 900 number can be detected by a system called Automatic Number Identification identifies which stores your number and links it with companies and associated companies you have had dealings with, its clever stuff.
  • There’s advice on finding reputable local traders here

Practical advice for helping the elderly to avoid scams

  • Be suspicious and don’t engage. If an offer sounds too good to be true, probably is.  These people are professional and will play on any perceived vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing impolite.
  • Take time – never make an immediate decision when offered a deal. Think about the offer and consult an independent party or seek professional advice before agreeing.
  • Check out the credentials of a person or organisation before signing any agreement or handing over any money.
  • Protect bank details and person details. Never give personal details to anyone you don’t know or trust.
  • Never send money abroad, often these are requests received on-line. Even if it says it’s from someone you know it can still be a scam.
  • Shred any documents containing a home address before putting them in the bin or recycling.
  • Delete any unsolicited texts from your phone. Protect your phone by never replying.
  • Protect computers by always keeping the anti-virus and security programmes up-to-date and make sure you are using secure pages on sites which begin with ‘https’ in the address bar, rather than just http.
  • Our number one tip is to register phone numbers and postal addresses with both the  Telephone Preference Service and the Mail Protection Service;  neither service can guarantee to remove all scam calls/requests, but they should dramatically reduce the volume.

What to do if someone has been victim of a scam

If you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, then speak to your bank immediately and report any fraud to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.

You can get further information on dealing with scams and fraud by calling the Consumer Service telephone number via 0808 223 1133, or contact Citizens Advice.

There is an online Scams helper from Citizens Advice which takes you through a series of questions to check if something is a scam and what to do if it is.

If you witness scammers in your area, or have any concerns, you should contact your local council’s’ Trading Standards department.

If you have any tips on how to stay safe, let us know via the Age Space forum. You can also find out more about our work with Friends Against Scams and how you can help people in your local community.

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