How can I protect my elderly relative from scams?

Our guide provides an overview of the different types of scams the elderly may face and how you can help an older relative avoid them.

Doorstep selling

It can be difficult for an elderly person to deal with a pressurised face-to-face interaction. Even if the doorstep seller is not a fraudster knocking on the door with the aim of scamming your relative, a pushy salesman can still be intimidating.

You may wish to advise your relative not to answer the door unless they know a meeting has been organised.

Doorstep scammers tend to target more vulnerable and elderly people in their homes, with the aim of tricking them out of money.

They often use pressure sales tactics to try and get someone to buy a product or service.  

If you’d like to keep abreast of the most common doorstep scams and know what to do if your elderly relative has been caught out by a fraudster in this way, you may find Which? Elderly Care’s guide on doorstep scams useful.

Doorstep mis-selling

Genuine doorstep sellers can also be quite verbally forceful in attempts to sell a product or service. If you’re concerned that your elderly relative may have already been mis-sold by a doorstep seller, you can help them to cancel a contract they have changed their mind about, you can use our template letter to cancel a contract made through a sale on the doorstep.

Nuisance calls and texts

If your older relative is being bothered by unsolicited nuisance calls, texts or attempts to scam them, you can help them to put a stop to it.

Phone scams

Usually the scammer will try to impersonate a person or company of importance over the phone, such as the bank, utility company, government department or another trusted company.

You should advise your elderly relative to hang up the phone if they’re not expecting the call.

For common examples of vishing and smishing scams that affect the elderly and detailed advice on what to do in each case, visit the Which? Elderly Care guide on phone scams.

Unwanted calls

If your elderly relative is suffering from silent calls, you can contact Ofcom to deal with it, while the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) will help you to handle unwanted marketing calls.

Our guide on how to stop nuisance phone calls offers more detailed advice, including guidance on call-blocking technology and a free step-by-step tool which will report your nuisance call to the regulators.

Spam texts

Sending unsolicited nuisance text messages is illegal, so if your older relative is a victim of these, you can help them to report this to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

If you need help reporting the unsolicited text messages or would like more information on how to report spam texts to a mobile phone provider, take a look at our guide on how to deal with spam text messages.

This guide includes a handy step-by-step tool, which will guide you through the process of reporting a nuisance text to the regulator.

Unwanted post and scams

Receiving unwanted post is usually more annoying than intimidating, but scammers do also use the post as a way of targeting elderly people.

Postal scams

Common postal scams include bogus debt letters, lottery scams and hard luck story scams. Make sure you advise your elderly relative against responding, unless they are sure it’s genuine.

For more information on common postal scams that affect the elderly, things to watch out for and how to take action against postal scams, visit the Which? Elderly Care guide on postal scams.

Junk mail

If your elderly relative is receiving unwanted marketing material or junk mail, you can return it to sender, register their name and address for free with the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) or contact the sender directly.

Our guide on how to stop unwanted junk mail takes you through the process of taking action to reduce the amount of junk mail received.

Staying safe on dating websites

Older people are particularly vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which scammers try to take advantage of.

Scammers on dating websites will go to great lengths to gain trust and interest, expressing strong emotions for the recipient in a relatively short space of time.

If your older relative is using dating websites, you may wish to have a chat with them about how to stay safe on dating websites and apps. You can explain to them how they can identify the signs of a fraudster early on, recommend they keep the chat on official channels, and avoid giving away any money to someone they haven’t yet met in person.

Our guide on how to protect yourself on a dating website will help you to teach your elderly relative in more detail how to spot a fake profile, how to protect personal details and money and help you to teach them to stay cautious of moving too fast with someone they haven’t met in person. 

Pension scams

Pension scams, sometimes referred to as pension loans, early pension release or pension liberation, all promise the same thing - an agreement to transfer your pension savings to something that allows you access to your funds before the age of 55.

If you’re concerned your older relative may be vulnerable to such a scam, you should make them aware of things to watch out for and offer tips for how to avoid pension scammers.

Take a look at our Which? Consumer Rights guide for more information on how to spot a pension scam, tips to avoid being scammed and what to do if you or your older relative require further help.

Internet scams

Common emails scams which target the elderly include email or social media messages claiming to be from you a trusted source, such as a bank or another well trusted organisation they often use online like Amazon or PayPal.

Past ensuring that your elderly relative has up to date antivirus software and checking their computer is secure, you could teach them some practical tips for staying safe from email scam attempts such as:

  • Checking that a website URL starts with ‘https’ if they’re entering in payment details
  • Ignoring links from unknown senders and suggesting they copy and paste the genuine website into their browser
  • Not to reply to email or social media messages from people they don’t know. Replying may signify to a scammer that they are a ‘live’ lead and so may be susceptible to a scam
  • Being cautious about who and how they offer up their personal details, which include their name, date of birth, address and phone number
  • If a company asks for personal or bank details, not to follow any actions on the email. They should log in to their account on their browser and see if there is a message or notification which reflects the emails
  • If they’re unsure to find the organisation on the internet and contact their customer service team for clarity, and ignore the email/message

It’s important that your elderly relative is able to spot the signs of an email scam and identify the signs of a social media scam early, to avoid fraudsters scamming them.

For more tips on how to prevent your relative being scammed online, take a look at the Which? Elderly Care guide to online scams.

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