Older people alerted upon scams

Jacqui Kennedy, Director of Regulation and Enforcement, looks at how Trading Standards are protecting older and vulnerable people from scams

Old Age Desperate for helpBritain’s population of older adults is increasing, which raises numerous issues ranging from healthcare and housing to pensions and money worries.

So when a letter arrives promising a prize or lottery win, it can be tempting to believe that it could be your turn to have some good fortune and help your loved ones.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous scammers are finding ever more convincing ways to con vulnerable individuals. Age UK figures show that 14.5 million people believe they’ve been targeted by a scam but are reluctant to report it: only eight per cent go to the police and nine per cent seek advice from organisations such as Citizens’ Advice Bureau – but 72 per cent don’t tell their friends or family.

West Midlands Police, working alongside Central England Trading Standards Authorities and anti-scam charity Think Jessica, visited post offices across the region to warn pensioners of the dangers of postal scams.

While female pensioners who live on their own are shown to be the most likely targets for fraudsters, anyone of any age, regardless of whether they live alone or not, can be caught out by these conniving con artists.

Those who reply to letters promising ‘too good to be true’ prizes often find themselves caught in a cycle: the more they respond, the more letters they receive, so they feel obliged to continue replying.

The most common reasons people reply to scam mail are loneliness – as older people may become isolated – and being convinced they have actually won something.

Rather than making friends, people who respond to such scam letters or calls, will be shocked to discover their name is added to a ‘suckers list’ which is shared among scammers to help criminals home in on those ‘easy’ targets.

To help protect more vulnerable citizens, Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards team is working with colleagues in adult social services to identify individuals who may require further support.

This has come about as the Trading Standards team is set to sign up to the National Scams Hub (NSH), run by East Sussex Trading Standards, which sends authorities a list of addresses to visit in their area where residents are either known or potential scam victims.

The NSH aims to introduce a referral system between agencies, to gather and share intelligence on scams and the people behind them, as well as raise awareness of the dangers in a bid to stop this type of financial abuse.

Officers have already received 35 referrals from the NSH to vulnerable people living in Birmingham who have already fallen victim to scams or are on a ‘suckers list’.

These include:

  • A 90-year-old widower who had sent around £20,000 to a variety of postal scams
  • A victim who had passed away, but when officers visited his home the new owners had to clear two bin bags of scam mail and still receive 20-plus letters a day addressed to him.
  • A lady obsessed with winning money and entering TV quiz shows that ended many years ago.

Officers have found that often victims are very proud and therefore find it difficult to admit they have sent money to fraudsters, often knowing that it is a scam.

They will help those identified via the NSH list sign them up to the Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service to help reduce the amount of junk mail and cold calls they receive.

Referrals may also be made to adult social services where individuals are thought to be particularly at risk from fraudsters’ scams.

It’s a disgrace that scammers often target elderly and vulnerable people with sophisticated scams such as posing as their bank or phone company.

People regularly contact us with heart-breaking stories about con artists taking their money, so it is vital people know what to look out for and what they can do.