Older people are more likely to be targeted.
It’s a sad fact of life that older people are more likely to be targeted by criminals perpetrating fraud than any other sector of society. Although exact statistics may be quite difficult to come by, not least because fraud is one of the most under reported types of crime, research carried out earlier this year for a report written by Age UK found that 53% of people aged over 65 believed that they had been targeted by fraudsters.
The reasons aren’t difficult to understand, particularly if you take the rather unpleasant step of placing yourself in the shoes of the kind of criminals who perpetrate such scams, whether this means sophisticated telephone and internet scams or the more traditional crimes taking place on the doorstep. To the fraudsters, older people represent an obvious target for several reasons:
- They are more likely to have built up savings than younger people
- They may well be isolated from friends, family and the wider community
- They may be affected by factors which impair sound judgement such as cognitive impairment, bereavement and financial pressure
There are several factors, what’s more, which look set to increase the numbers of older people being targeted by fraudsters of all kinds in the future. The first of these, of course, is the simple fact that there are more older people in the population of the UK than ever before. In 1985, 15% of people in the UK were aged 65 or over, a figure which had risen to 17% in 2010, an overall increase of some 1.7 million people. The projection for the year 2035 is that those aged 65 or over will make up some 23% of the overall UK population. Currently, 49% of people aged over 75 live alone, while 17% only have contact with friends, family and neighbours once a week. Add these simple numbers to the fact that more and more older people are engaging with the wider world online, and that recent changes in pension legislation made it easier for those who are retired to draw down a large one-off proportion of their pension, and you have a situation in which the threat to the well-being of older people from fraudsters is only going to multiply and become more multi-faceted.
The first thing which most people will think of when considering this type of crime is the image of the cowboy builder or gardener, going from door to door persuading older people to hand over cash for work which is either unnecessary or simply never gets done. Although the door to door fraudsters who commit crimes of this kind will sometimes use threats and intimidation to persuade the victim to part with their money, an analysis of victim impact reports carried out by the National Trading Standards National Tasking Group in England and Wales found that 48% of victims felt that the offenders were ‘trustworthy’, two thirds felt they were friendly and 58% described them as polite. Research carried out by Citizens Advice Scotland found that many victims of this kind of crime were targeted because they lived alone and felt isolated from any means of finding out if the work was truly necessary. Often, the recently bereaved were targeted, and the same people would sometimes be the victims of repeat offences. The only advice to offer to older people targeted in this manner is to agree to no work, and hand over no money, until they’ve discussed the situation with someone else. In the absence of a friend or family member they should get in touch with an official body such as the local council, the police, a citizens advice bureau or the church.
Unwanted Calls and Telephone Fraud
Perhaps because older people are more likely to buy from catalogues or via newspaper advertisements, they can often find that their contact details are passed on to other organisations as being people who are likely to respond to a sales pitch. Frequently, however, the recipients of what are sometimes referred to as ‘sucker lists’ are either sales bodies who rarely take no for an answer, charities who exert pressure and emotional blackmail upon older people to make donations and, at the most extreme end of the spectrum, out and out criminals who use either internet or telephone contact to gain details such as peoples bank account numbers and even passwords, and use this information to steal whatever they can get hold of.
Whilst the easiest step would be not to tick the box saying that your details can be shared, this is often easier said than done; many forms have a pre-ticked box of this kind, or a box which has to be ticked to prevent details being shared, and once the calls start coming through they can prove, in both their nature and number, to be highly distressing. The first step to take if you wish to protect yourself or an elderly relative from calls of this kind is to register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), online at www.tpsonline.org.uk . Although this doesn’t guarantee the calls will stop – only companies also registered with the scheme will stop calling – it is a useful first step and has the advantage of being free of charge.
Other steps include screening calls via an answer machine or caller ID device, or even paying for a service which will intercept calls and pass on only those which you want to receive. Over and above any technical fixes, however, the best course of action to take is to establish a strict regime when answering the phone to someone you don’t know; don’t hesitate to ask the name, phone number and company and put the phone down if they refuse to answer. Above all else, remember never to give personal information to someone making this kind of call, as a genuine bank, building society or even police force, will never ask for details such as account numbers. Another useful tip, once you’ve put the phone down, is to wait at least 5 minutes before calling someone to report the incident, such as the police. Fraudsters will often keep the line open so that when you call out you’re actually still speaking to them, making another attempt to trick your details out of you.
Other types of scam often perpetrated against older people include account takeover, courier fraud, investment fraud and pension fraud. Though the details of each type of fraud may differ, the principles of protecting yourself from the fraudsters remain the same – when in doubt (or even when convinced of the goodwill of the person you’re dealing with), ask someone else, whether it’s a friend, a family member or an official body. Criminals of this kind often rely upon the fact that many older people are alone and isolated. If you can short circuit this by making sure you only deal with the likes of salesmen or tradespeople with someone by your side, you’ll have taken a huge step towards protecting yourself.