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Staying safe from scams

Three ladies sitting in chairs

How can older people protect themselves from scammers?

Being scammed can feel frustrating and even embarrassing. Age UK is giving older people the tools to stay safe.

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Rod* had lost almost £1,200 to bogus builders when he was put in touch with Age UK Enfield’s Scams Prevention team. He said he felt silly for not spotting the scam, which in turn made him apprehensive to the point where he didn’t like leaving his home.

Age UK Enfield is one of 5 local Age UKs in London that took part in a pilot Scams Prevention and Victim Support programme, working in partnership with Action Fraud and the National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University. The programme, funded by the City Bridge Trust, helped more than 3,000 older people like Rod feel safer and more confident about spotting a scam in the future.

“Unfortunately, older people can be particularly vulnerable to scams,” says Catriona Malbon, a project manager at Age UK who worked on the programme. “If you’re living alone, don’t have much of a support network around you or have a pre-existing health condition, it can be much easier for people to target you. Around 30% of the older people we came into contact with through the programme had already been scammed before.”

As well as putting on awareness-raising events to help people spot scams and creating links with local organisations and community groups to spread the message about how to stay safe, advisers from local Age UKs visited particularly vulnerable older people at their homes to provide one-on-one support. Rod received this support, which he said gave him the information he needed to stay safe in the future.

“The programme’s been a real success, and a big part of that is how enthusiastic older people were about the services local Age UKs are providing,” says Catriona.

Read the Scams Prevention and Victim Support report

Find out what the programme achieved and the impact it's had on older people who are vulnerable to scams.

Older people acting against scams

At Age UK Gloucestershire, a group of older people have found a unique way to understand the mindset of those who commit scams. Working with an actor, they’ve written a play about the common scams targeting older people. They’ve been performing it to audiences across Gloucestershire.

“All the scenarios are based on real life,” says Ann, a member of the group, which brings older people together to try out new activities. “We learned about the different types of scams from information from Trading Standards. There are so many – from romance scams to someone phoning you pretending to be from an organisation they’re not.” “The one I portray, well I actually almost had this scam pulled on me,” says 86-year-old Pearl. “I was at a bus stop in town and I put my handbag on the floor. These two well-dressed ladies came up to me and said they didn’t understand the timetable, would I help them find their bus? I said ‘Yes, of course’ and went with one of the women to look at the timetable, leaving my bag on the floor.

“All at once I sensed there was something wrong – only one of the women had come with me. So I just left and I went back to my bag straight away. Thankfully nobody took anything, but things can happen so easily by you being forgetful or too trusting.” The group agree that acting has been a fantastic experience, and that they’ve enjoyed sharing what they’ve learned about scams with their audiences.

“I’d have never got up and spoken in public before,” says Mike, who plays a romance scammer who forms an online relationship to extort money. “But now...”

“It’s second nature!” adds Margaret, 84.

Top tips to avoid scams and fraud

  • Don't rush into anything. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Do your research. Make sure a company is reputable by checking for a contact number and postal address and membership of a trade association.
  • Know who's on your doorstep. Check before you open your door, and don’t feel bad about asking someone to leave if you don’t know them. If someone refuses to leave, you can call the police.
  • Be wise to cold call scams. Ignore unsolicited invitations such as letters, emails or phone calls offering a brilliant investment or saying you’ve won a lottery.
  • Be aware of new pension scams. New rules allowing people to access their pension pots from age 55 have created opportunities for new scams. Be cautious of anyone claiming to know about loopholes, talks about overseas investments or says you can get your money before age 55.
  • Report it. Don't feel embarrassed or ashamed if a scam happens to you. Unfortunately it’s much more common than people think. Contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 to report it and get help.

* Name changed to protect identity of interviewee.

Avoiding scams

For more information and advice, download Age UK’s guide ‘Avoiding scams’ or order your free copy by calling the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 678 1602.

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Last updated: Jul 15 2019

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