How being scammed can lead to a loss of confidence and independence

When anyone is scammed it can damage their confidence and well-being. Furthermore, when an elderly person is scammed it can have an especially devastating effect.

Sadly, it can lead to a loss of confidence and independence. People are embarrassed to report they have been scammed. Additionally, they feel ashamed to have become a victim.

They become increasingly frail and fragile and prone to accidents and infections. As a result, they often deteriorate rapidly and can end up needing 24-hour care.

Expert on scams

Professor Keith Brown of Bournemouth University, an expert on scams, says: ‘People who are defrauded of their life savings often feel badly violated and lose their confidence to live in the community. If someone has been conned, they often lose the confidence to maintain themselves at home at thus they end up in residential care as they are simply too afraid to remain at home.’

Ripple effect of being scammed

As a result, being scammed has a detrimental knock-on effect for communities. The damage is not limited to the victim either. According to Professor Brown, family and relatives are also badly affected: ‘The family feel terrible because they’ve not been able to protect their loved one from being conned. This is a cycle of pain and grief. Trying to stop it is critical.’

Shocking statistics of being scammed

Every 40 seconds, according to official crime figures, an older person in England and Wales becomes a victim of fraud. This shocking new statistics by Age UK came after the charity’s analysis of figures for the Crime Survey of England and Wales.

The Crime Survey interviewed over 34,000 people about their experiences of crime. It found that reported fraud incidents had increased by 17 per cent in a year to 3.8 million.

Fraud more common than mugging

Additionally, the latest figures also showed that people are now nearly three times more likely to be a victim of fraud than to be burgled and nearly 19 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than to be mugged.

Sadly, the results revealed that a staggering 8% – almost one in every 12 respondents ­– aged 65 and older reported being the victim of fraud in the last year.

Age UK’s call for action

In fact, these figures have prompted Age UK to call for a new national strategy to tackle the growing problem of fraud. In fact, the charity believes fraud should become a national policing priority, firmly supported by stronger, more coordinated partnership working across bodies. These agencies should include: police forces, trading standards, banks, adult social care services and other interested agencies, and a cohesive effort if required if there is to be any hope of combating the rising threat from this type of crime.

Targeting the elderly

Although fraud affects people of all ages and backgrounds, it seems that Age UK’s recent analysis discovered those older people with higher incomes, or those who lived alone, were more likely and vulnerable to becoming a victim of fraud.

In fact, one expert predicts that the extent to which the elderly are scammed is the next big scandal of our times.

Tip of the iceberg

Professor Brown goes on to suggest the true extent of elderly victims will be shocking.

‘It’s hugely under-reported – we’re talking about millions of victims,’ says Professor Brown. ‘If this were burglary or street crime there would be a huge outcry, but it’s hidden behind closed doors. Over the next few years this will become the next big scandal like the dawning realisation of the scale of child abuse.’

Take Five To Stop Fraud is an official campaign designed to protect consumers against financial fraud. Backed by the Home Office and financial institutions, it aimed to strike at the heart of what it calls ‘the most prevalent crime in this country’.

Too clever to be scammed?

One of the biggest issues, according to the campaign, is that many of us think we are too clever to be taken in by a scam which often leaves us vulnerable.

However, when the campaign invited people to answer an online test designed to see who could separate scam texts and emails from genuine messages, of the 63,000 people who took the test, only 9% of people were correctly able to identify scam texts.

Sophisticated scams

The problem is that scams are increasingly clever and sophisticated. As a result, they sound plausible and they suck people in. It isn’t just the elderly who are susceptible to scams – but is it the elderly who are often targeted.

Most common scams

Scammers use sophisticated techniques and are quick to adapt. As people get better at blocking scams through the post and over the telephone, the scammers simply transfer to the next technology.

Advanced fee frauds are the most common scams. This is where victims are told they have won a lottery but must pay a fee to receive the prize. In 2017-2018 there were almost 20,000 cases – including 370 victims aged over 90.

Computer software service fraud was the second most common crime in 2017. This is where victims are told their computer has been compromised by a virus. There were more than 12,300 cases in 2017.

Identity theft was recently reported by CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service as reaching epidemic levels in this country.

Identity theft is when criminals pretend to be a someone else in order to steal their money, buy items or take out financial products using their name. In first six months of 2017 alone, there were a record 89,000 cases.

The true cost of being scammed

The most obvious cost of these scams is financial. In 2017, fraud costs UK consumers an estimated £10bn a year in losses. This had doubled from 2016.

However, apart from the financial damages, there are emotional and psychological costs that deeply affect the victim. Fraudsters are so experienced now and so believable, it is very easy to become a victim and it could happen to anybody.

Desperate for contact

Underneath the clever and complicated scams lies a simple and sad truth. Some of these elderly people are so desperate for contact, that some contact with a scammer is better than no contact with anyone at all.

Professor Brown explains: ‘We’ve discovered via research in the last few years that the most vulnerable in our society are lonely elderly people – we meet these people through our research and surprisingly some of them are so desperately lonely that they are prepared to be scammed simply to have contact with the outside world. They know they are dealing with fraudulent scam mail; but they would rather have that mail than no human contact at all.’

Professor Brown continues: ‘We’ve also worked with other vulnerable people to provide call blocking devices and some of them have switched them off, because prior to installing the device, they received 30 calls a week, and they’d rather the five calls a day from a scammer than no calls at all.’

Impact on social service and NHS

As well as affecting the individuals, their families, their communities, scams and the damage they cause, can put a strain on the healthcare and social services. A scam or fraud is often the catalyst to a cascading cycle, where someone who was previously independent, has now lost their confidence and is now isolated and vulnerable.

Scams may be the unseen crime since they take place behind closed doors and affect individuals, but these crimes have a far-reaching ripple effect on communities and our society as a whole.

Professor Brown concludes: ‘You find yourself looking into the whole arena of loneliness and how society is dealing with loneliness, which has become a major issue for healthcare and social services.’

How to report a scam

If you are concerned that you or a relative have been a victim of a scam you can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit the Action Fraud website.

Age UK’s top five steps to reduce the risk of being scammed

STOP – Never do anything you don’t want to or make any decisions on the spot

CHECK – Always check their credentials

ASK – Always ask someone you trust for a second opinion

MINE – Do not give away personal information

SHARE – Share your experience with others to lower their risk of being scammed

Further advice and resources:

For more helpful advice visit their website here

Age UK has developed a range of resources which provide practical steps to ensure older people are able to protect themselves against this type of crime in their home and on their doorstep.

Those needing advice can call Age UK’s free national advice line all year round on 0800 169 65 65 (lines open 8am – 7pm).

Older people and their families can also find advice on Age UK’s website. Covering key areas such as pension scams, nuisance calls, doorstep crimes, investment schemes and online scams, people looking for advice can visit: Here they can also find links to copies of Age UK’s free, downloadable guides Avoiding scams, Staying safe and Internet security.

Stay Safe for Older People is a free information and resource

Stay Safe for Older People is a free, national education programme signposting older people to vital resources for themselves and their carers. It is an on-going and growing resource compiling vital information from numerous experts and organisations dedicated to the safety, health and well-being of people in later years.

Visit us here:

Written by Emma Hammett RGN

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