What is a scam?
A scam is a dishonest scheme used by criminals to trick people out of their money. Your personal details (such as name, address, passwords, account numbers and date of birth) are high on scammers’ wish lists, as they provide a route to your cash. Stealing personal details is known as ID fraud. With this information, it’s possible for fraudsters to take money from your bank, go on a spending spree with your cards, open new accounts in your name or even make false insurance claims.
Scammers are convincing liars who use every trick in the book to make their scams sound plausible. They are ruthless and don’t care who they hurt along the way. If a scammer gets lucky – targeting the right person, in the right way, at the right time – anyone could fall victim to a scam.
Scammers might be individuals, but often they are organised gangs who work full time thinking up new and inventive ways to con innocent people out of their cash. They might approach potential targets by phone, post, online or even by visiting them at home.
What are the different types of scam?
The main objective of a scammer is to trick someone out of money. They might try to do this by:
- promising a gift, prize or ‘windfall’ of some kind, if you first part with a smaller amount of cash
- befriending you, then convincing you to part with cash to help them out of a tricky situation
- selling a product or service that you don’t need, or that never materialises
- tricking their way into your home so that they can steal cash or valuables
- impersonating a trusted organisation – such as your bank, utility company, the police or a government department – to trick you into divulging personal information.
Scammers might get in touch using a variety of different methods, which we cover in greater detail in separate articles:
Who might be targeted?
Almost 5 million people aged 65 and over in the UK believe they have been targeted by scammers (TNS Research Express polling for Age UK, June/July 2017). Of these people, 12% responded to the scam, which means around half a million older people may have fallen victim. In addition, the National Trading Standards Scams Team report that the average age of postal fraud victims in 2017 is 75 years.
Anyone can fall victim to a scam, but older people can be at greater risk because scammers tend to target people who:
- live alone
- are at home during the day
- have savings or valuables
- are more likely to talk to them, perhaps due to loneliness.
Older people often fit the bill. Some older people might be suffering from dementia, which could affect their decision-making process, or they might also feel lonely, which might make them more likely to talk to people.
It’s important to know about the types of scam and how to spot them (see below) as scammers can be very convincing. Many victims don’t realise that they are being tricked and believe that scams only happen to ‘other people’.
How do I know if I'm being scammed?
There are some scam warning signs that are worth knowing about to look out for.
Read more about this in our article on how to spot a scam.
Concerned about someone being scammed?
If you’re worried that a relative or loved one could be vulnerable to scams, talk to them about protecting themselves and the common scams to look out for.
Warning signs to look out for:
If you think that your loved one has already been targeted by scammers, use our advice to help them take the appropriate action. Look out for these warning signs:
- they have unusual amounts of post or letters lying about the house
- there is evidence of large unexplained cash withdrawals or cheque payments
- they seem short of money, when they shouldn’t be
- they seem to get a lot of phone calls from strangers or companies
- they seem anxious or upset for no apparent reason.
Some scam victims don’t believe they are being scammed. Your loved one might believe this person is their friend or that they’re just about to win a big prize.
Things can be even more difficult if the person you’re supporting has dementia. They might find it harder to say ‘no’ to salespeople, be more likely to believe strangers or not realise what’s happening. If your loved one has dementia, you might find our article on talking to someone with dementia helpful.
Safeguarding your loved one
If someone you know is receiving care from their local authority and you think they're being scammed, it’s worth reporting your concerns to the Adult Safeguarding team. They can investigate situations where an older person may be at risk of abuse, including financial abuse caused by a scam. Use this gov.uk page to find your local authority's website.
If you're the victim of a scam, report it: you may help to prevent others being caught out.
Here, we describe some of the most common phone scams and offer advice on how to deal with them.
Doorstep scammers will have a variety of tricks to scam you out of money. We explain how to spot a doorstep scam.