Can you spot a scam?

We all pride ourselves on being able to spot a fraud but, these days, with ever-growing numbers and types of scams and fraudsters employing increasingly sophisticated techniques, just how vulnerable are we?

Although anyone can be the victim of a scam, older people may be more vulnerable because scams often target people who live alone, are at home during the day, have more savings and valuables and are willing to talk to fraudsters.

In 2015, the Financial Ombudsman found that 80% of phone scam victims were aged over 55 and 65% of doorstep scam victims were over the age of 75.

One such victim is 91-year-old Agnes, who is fiercely independent and lives alone. According to her family, she has fallen victim to scammers a number of times, and they estimate she has so far lost tens of thousands of pounds.

Agnes was first targeted by scammers in 2014, who her family believe were operating from highly sophisticated call centres in different countries, trying to sell her shares that were actually worth nothing.

Agnes’ daughter, Catherine, and son-in-law, Rodney, only realised that Agnes was being targeted by scammers when she rang them to ask to borrow some money, saying she had to make a payment on her shares.

They then found out that she had spent all of her savings buying worthless shares, with the family estimating she had spent thousands of pounds.

Rodney immediately reported the scam to the police but Agnes’ problems didn’t end there: being the victim of one scam meant she was then targeted by more scammers by being put on what is known as a ‘suckers’ list’.

“After that came a raft of companies trying to flog her stuff by mail and phone,” says Rodney. “They’d tell her ‘You have won a house,’ or, ‘Congratulations! You have won £15,500’, ‘You will be lucky’, ‘There’s a cheque waiting for you’, or ‘Act now to see if you are a winner.’ None of these ‘prizes’ were ever going to arrive. They are scams.”

An estimated half a million older people in the UK have, like Agnes, fallen victim to a scam. However, the real number could be much higher because many people may feel embarrassed to admit they’ve been conned. Agnes’s family wanted to share her story to raise awareness of scams to help older people protect themselves.

Independent Age, the older people’s charity has launched a new, free guide, called Scamwise: Spotting, avoiding and reporting scams, to help people like Agnes and their families recognise scams and know what to do if they spot one or if they think they have been the victim of a scam, as well as advice on how to protect themselves from being scammed.

Scamwise is completely free to order and download from independentage.org/scamwise or can be ordered by calling 0800 319 6789.