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Socially isolated at higher risk of scams

Spot the scams used to rob the socially isolated

People who are socially isolated are often unable to connect to support or help to prevent scams, according to Citizens Advice data.

The report reveals that when compared with the general population disabled people and those who have a long term health condition were more likely to be victims of phishing and other banking scams (37% compared to 29%) and prizes and lottery scams (41% compared to 29%).

While the number of scams reported among the socially isolated is smaller than other groups, detriment is experienced not just in the amount of money lost, but the overall impact on the person’s health and wellbeing.

If you, or anyone you know is lonely or  isolated, here are five types of scams to watch out for.

1. Email ‘phishing’ scams

Email scams, also called phishing scams, are when a cyber scammer contacts you out of the blue and tries to tricks you into clicking a dangerous link or filling in your personal information or bank details.

Examples of email scams include:

  • a message saying you’ll be entered into a free prize draw if you enter your information
  • a message pretending to be from HMRC telling you have a tax rebate, or that you owe tax
  • a message pretending to be from your bank or a popular retailer claiming there’s been strange activity on your account which requires you to re-enter your personal details

If you suspect an email might be from a scammer, do not click on any links or download any attachments featured in the scam email as these may download a computer virus onto your computer.

Computer viruses can find their way onto your computer by scammers tricking you into installing them. For example, ransomware threatens to take action on your computer – such as deleting files – unless you pay a ransom.

Read our guide on email scams for more tips on how to spot an email scam.

2. Postal scams

One of the most common postal scams is the lottery / prize draw scam. A letter arrives in the post congratulating you on your win and asks you to pay a fee for your winnings to be released.

The reality is you won’t receive a prize. In some cases you may be asked to pay further increasing fees or encouraged to call a premium rate number.

Scammers are always coming up with new ideas, so read our guide for information on other well-known postal scams and how to avoid them.

3. Advance loan fee scams

Reports of loan fee fraud to the FCA increased by 44% last year and it is now the most common type of scam reported to the FCA, ahead of investment fraud.

If you’ve got limited access to mainstream credit, have a lower income or a lower credit rate, then you’re more likely to be targeted by loan fee scammers for this type of banking scam.

Scammers ask people to send money in advance for a range of faulty, misadvertised or non-existent loan services.

So, if paying an upfront fee is a condition of getting a loan it could be an advance fee scam.

If you’re looking to get a loan, read our guidance on how to avoid and report advance loan fee fraud.

4. Dating scams

Dating scams are not only financially destructive, they’re also a painful emotional experience – especially if the victim is a socially isolated person.

Businesswoman reclining on a hotel bed using her smartphone.

Scammers on dating websites and apps create false profiles to lure people, using a fictional name or masquerading as a real person.

Once a dating fraudster has gained your trust they will pretend they need money to come to see you or try to convince you to help them through a family issue.

They could ask for your banking details or your credit card – don’t give it to them.

Top tips for staying safe dating online

Read our guide for more information on how to check if a dating profile is fake or real and for further tips on how to identity a dating scammer.

5. Microsoft phone scam

A common scam used to target the socially isolated is the Microsoft phone scam, where a scammer calls you and pretends to be a computer-security expert from Microsoft.

The scammer will try to convince you that your PC, laptop or tablet has been infected with malware or a virus.

They’ll tell you they can fix the problem and might seek to convince you to give them access to your computer.

If they’re granted access, the scammer will look to steal your personal data, including your passwords by installing a virus onto your computer.

Read our guide for more on how to avoid the Microsoft phone scam, including tips on how to spot one.

6. Phone scams

More general phone scams are also used to target the socially isolated and vulnerable.

Phone scams typically involve fraudsters cold calling people pretending to be a police officer, a member of bank staff or a representative of another trusted company or agency such as a government department.

Unfortunately, if you’ve fallen for one of these kinds of scams once, you may be put on what’s called a ‘sucker list’ – a list of prior and potential victims bought and sold by regular fraudsters.

These lists can include the names, addresses, phone numbers, and other information scammers might need to target you.

If you think there’s a scammer speaking to you on the other end of the phone, don’t disclose your Pin, personal details, online banking passwords or login codes.

Read our guide for more information on phone scams and how to avoid them.

Get help with loneliness and isolation

If you, or anyone you know is feeling lonely or isolated there are organisations and resources across the UK that help. We’ve included links to some below:

More resources for tackling loneliness are available on the Which? Elderly Care website.

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