From fraudulent emails that look like they’re from a bank, to letters promoting fake competitions, lotteries and investment opportunities, scams are sadly a part of our everyday lives. You can be targeted through the post, phone calls, text messages, emails, online, and even face to face on your own doorstop.
The wide reaching effect of scams
These scams aren’t just a minor inconvenience to people. The average amount lost is about £1,000, with some people losing far more - their homes, their pensions, their life savings. The damage isn’t limited to financial loss either. Being a victim of a scam can cause considerable personal distress and misery. With older or more vulnerable people it can also lead to them losing their ability to live alone, whether that’s through a loss of their own confidence or their friends and family’s confidence.
Citizens Advice research found that almost three quarters (72%) of adults aged 18 and over had been targeted by scammers in the previous 2 years. Over a third (37%) have been targeted 5 times or more.
Targeting older people
While anyone can be targeted by a scam, we found that older people in particular seem to be less confident in their ability to spot a scam, and are less likely to take measures to protect themselves. They are also one of the biggest targets of scams. According the National Trading Standards Scam Team, the average age of a scam victim is 74, and they often have a high level of detriment, especially when targeted by things like investment or pension scams.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and The Pensions Regulator (TPR) found that pension scammers steal an average of £91,000 per victim.
But two thirds of the people we spoke to have taken no action to help protect friends or family. Take up of the Telephone and Mailing Preference Services — both designed to help people block calls from scammers — is low, as are rates of reporting.
That’s why Citizens Advice takes part in the annual Scams Awareness campaign. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness and empower people to take action against these crimes. Together with our partners we have managed to raise a huge amount of awareness of scams across the country and equip thousands of people to protect themselves - and we want to continue to do so all year round.
If you think you or someone you know might be being scammed, here are some things you can do:
- Stop. It’s okay to take a minute to think about what’s happening. It’s easier to spot a scam if you know what to look for. Be careful if:
- Something has come out of the blue or from someone you don’t know.
- It sounds out of the ordinary - like you’ve won the lottery.
- You’re asked to pay for something in advance - especially by bank transfer or gift vouchers.
- You’re being asked for personal information, like your bank details.
- You’re being urged to respond quickly so you don’t get time to think about it or talk to family and friends
- You’re asked to phone an expensive number.
If you think someone might be trying to scam you or someone you know, take the time to get advice. You can contact the Citizens Advice consumer service for help with what to do next.
2. Report. It’s important to report scams or suspected scams to Action Fraud. If it’s a pension or investment scam, you can also report to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Reporting is an essential part of preventing friends and loved ones from being targeted and stopping scams happening in future.
3. Talk. Older victims are often afraid to tell anyone they’ve been scammed, particularly if they are worried family and friends might think they are unable to cope and remove their financial independence.
This stigma is stopping people from speaking out and getting the support they need. Citizens Advice Bristol found that peer-led support empowered victims to talk about what they had experienced. Group members built up confidence around scams, and more importantly, they found friends in which they could confide.
At Citizens Advice, we want everyone to be scam aware. So if you think you or someone you know is being scammed make sure you stop, report and talk.
Alex Smith is a Senior Campaigns and Public Affairs Officer at Citizens Advice.
Have you been affected by any of these issues?
If you have been affected by any of the issues described in this blog, or simply need someone to reach out to, you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06, Monday to Friday between 9 am and 5 pm.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age.