How To Help Your Parents Prevent Being Scammed As They Get Older (Updated)
It might be hard to believe, but almost one in every two crimes in the UK is a fraud or cyber crime, and the elderly become a victim of fraud every 40 seconds (Age UK). With financial scams on the rise, we’ve written this article on how you can help your parents prevent being scammed as they get older.
We cover why scammers target older adults, different types of scams to be aware of, what to do if your elderly parent is the victim of fraud and what you can do to help your elderly parents avoid scams. We hope you find it useful.
We’re huge fans of smart home devices to help our elderly parents for a number of reasons – one of which is they can help to prevent your parents being scammed. Read our article on how Alexa can help here.
Scams And The Elderly
Someone close to me was recently scammed – they clicked on a rogue link sent via a text message that they thought was from their mobile provider. What followed was weeks of pain as the scammer stole their personal data and we tried to follow the fraudster’s trail.
We had to claim money back from the bank (thankfully they had notifications set up on their phone so we knew when payments were being made), change email and online banking passwords, cancel phone contracts and get a new mobile number (and spend hours on hold to various organisations).
During this scary and convoluted process, it really did feel like the scammer was taking over their life.
Let’s be clear here – anyone, regardless of age, can be scammed. All it takes is a click on a fraudulent email link, or trusting a stranger too much on the phone.
Fraudsters steal identities, personal data and lie for personal gain. And once a person falls victim to one con artist, their personal details can often be sold onto other criminals, so they are targeted again and again.
However, there are a number of reasons though why fraudsters specifically target older people, and why we should help our parents prevent being scammed.
In the scammers’ eyes, the elderly are viewed as vulnerable. With many living alone, there isn’t always someone there to mention an out of the ordinary email or phone call to. And as more and more older people turn to technology, it’s more likely that they click on links that they shouldn’t on Facebook and bogus text messages.
Fraudsters can also take advantage of loneliness amongst older people. Phone scams are rife, and people living on their own often welcome the company and conversation from strangers. Scammers build their trust and then use it to rob them.
The elderly can also be seen as easy targets, with access to money that they have built up over the years. And as the number of older people living with dementia increases, so do the number of scammers preying on them.
If you have financial power of attorney for your parent, go through their payments and standing orders to check if they have set up payment plans for fake subscriptions for example.
Victims don’t just lose money. They can lose independence and confidence and feel embarrassed about the situation. If you think your parent has been subject to scams, find out how you can help them.
Scams are just one way that elderly people can lose their independence. At ElWell, we want to support you as you help your parents stay in control as they get older. Our articles on products to make life easier for older adults and adaptive clothing could be a good place to start!
Types Of Scams
Humans naturally have several traits that make us susceptible to fraud – we want to help others and we want to be liked. And scammers are con artists who are innovative, have zero morals and are always looking for new ways to make money. These characteristics are why scams are successful.
There are so many different types of financial scams and cyber crime out there to make our elderly parents aware of and we’ve listed these below along with tips on how to identify a scammer.
Fake bank calls, scam texts and emails can be convincing and outsmart your parent out of their hard-earned money. The scammer will ask for far more detail than the bank ever would e.g. bank account number, sort code, the full password, card details. Common bank scams say that the account has been compromised and they need to move money to “safe accounts”, or they need information to make the money safe.
Bank scammers have also been known to clone bank numbers, so it looks like they are ringing from them. And bank scammers often use multiple mediums – for example, they will send a scam bank text, and then follow up with a phone call pretending to be the bank. This makes it all more realistic.
Follow our steps at the end of this article if your parent has been victim to bank fraud.
Charity Scam Phone Calls
Charity scammers pretend to be from a charity, using an emotional story to pull at the heartstrings of the older person on the other end of the line.
Your parent can avoid calls from fake charities by asking for detailed information about the charity and calling them directly to report it. Remind your elderly parent to never give donations through wiring money or by gift cards. And that they should never feel pressured to make a donation on the phone.
If your parent doesn’t have the mental capacity to realise this is a scam, then we would recommend you work with their financial power of attorney to cancel relevant payments.
Phishing is a strange word, but it essentially means getting a fraudulent email from what you believe to be a reputable company. In this common scam, the scammer hopes that you will click on it and reveal personal information. The number one rule to remember is don’t click on any links in a suspected phishing email.
Phishing email scams can look like they come from Amazon, Netflix, your bank or any number of other official sources. Some emails are more sophisticated than others but key warning signs to identify a phishing attack are:
- Should this company or individual be emailing you about this specific subject? Your bank will not email you asking for personal details via email, so this should be a warning sign.
- Check the sender’s email address. If official, it shouldn’t be a random email address. Phishing emails are often sent from strange email addresses.
- Check for grammar and spelling. Poor punctuation can be a giveaway!
- Check who it is addressed to. Often they don’t include your name, instead saying ‘sir or madam’ for example.
As phishing attacks get more prevalent and sophisticated, it is important to report fraud emails to the organisation that the scammer is impersonating.
Your parent may get a Royal Mail reschedule text message (or another delivery company) asking them to click on a link to arrange redelivery or pay a customs charge. All of these texts are scams.
All delivery companies use cards through the door if you weren’t in to receive a delivery, or further payment was needed.
Even in the age of advanced cyber crime, door to door fraudsters still try their luck – especially with older people who can appreciate the conversation or not know how to get rid of cold callers at the door.
They may try to encourage them to sign up to bogus charities and hand over their bank details, or convince them of unecessary house repairs which need to be paid then and in cash.
How To Get Rid Of Cold Callers At The Door
- Your parents do not need to answer the door to cold callers, or answer it only with the lock on. They should not feel pressured to letting them into the house, no matter how “nice” they seem.
- Always ask for ID if they do answer the door.
- Never to give their bank details out to strangers, no matter how nice or persuasive they can seem. If they feel pressured, they can ask for their details and they will contact them at a later date.
- If they claim work is needed and will not leave, insist on a written quotation through the letterbox at another time.
Subscription Renewal Scams
Most people nowadays have at least one subscription – whether that’s for a magazine, or a streaming service. And scammers are taking advantage of this with subscription renewal scams.
Amazon Prime scam calls are a good example of this, designed to trick victims into connecting with a fraudulent account manager and passing on bank details and personal data.
Amazon Prime would never call, email or text asking for a renewal, and would never push you into revealing personal information over technology. Remind your elderly parents that if they receive scam calls like this, they should hang up and not give any details. Like with getting rid of cold callers at the door, they do not need to speak with the scammer if they don’t want to.
With links, don’t click if you don’t know who the sent it. Scammers are becoming more and more advanced and if given access to your mobile or computer, can gain access to your online banking, steal your mobile phone number and more.
This is not just for online. Fraudsters are sending fake renewal notices for magazine subscriptions, offering substantial discounts (which should be a warning sign). These look official (official logo, quality print job).
If your parent has a magazine subscription, let them know to be aware. You can help avoid this by checking the renewal date (most magazines would put a real renewal notice into the last issue), checking the address given (is it the real publisher’s address?) or even contacting the publisher.
We all love some attention don’t we? But romance scammer tactics take advantage of this with older adults, building up a rapport before asking them to send them money or (more sophisticated) access their bank details themselves. They may pretend to be a doctor from abroad, or a soldier who wants to meet your parent in person, but need your parent to “invite” them (with the invitation being how they can access their personal details).
Dating scammers look for information online and on social media about individuals they think would be easy to trick. Keywords on social media like ‘divorced’, ‘single’ or ‘widowed’ are triggers to them.
How to Outsmart A Romance Scammer
- Have a look at your parent’s social media profiles and make sure it doesn’t give away any key information. Remove their age and relationship status if it’s public. It could also be an idea to put up a profile picture of the whole family so it’s hard for a scammer to identify whose profile it is.
- Be appointed your parent’s financial power of attorney. You have input to managing their finances from the time it is appointed (unlike with a health and welfare POA) so can ensure no unsavoury transactions are occurring – or stop them if they are (closing and opening a new bank account for example).
- If there’s a picture of the romance scammer, you can search it on Google Images. You have to do this from a computer (not a phone or tablet) – just right click the image and click Search Google for Image. It will show that the scammer has used a fake photo.
Scammers love it when there is consumer confusion around a topic. There are recent reports of scammers ringing people, requesting they get tested or claiming to have a dose of the vaccine before asking for over-the-phone payment. With tests and the vaccine both free, this is fraud.
A recent online shopping scam involves fake retailer websites offering face masks. They advertise on social media, take the payment (never via a secure payment gateway such as PayPal) and then do not deliver the product. If you or your parent is shopping online, always make sure it’s from a reputable source with good reviews.
Anyone who has direct debits set up should be aware of this. Mandate scams are when a scammer pretends to be an organisation that you make regular payments to (e.g. your mobile phone provider) and gets you to change your direct debit details. Scammers can send letters requesting this, hack online banking accounts or target victims over the phone.
The grandparent scam is particularly horrible. The fraudster pretends to be a family member in trouble or someone official representing them (such as a lawyer). They ask for money (e.g. to help with rent) and ask the victim not to tell anyone as they are embarrassed. The grandparent transfers money over and then never hears from the relative.
It’s likely the scammer would have found out family information from spying on the grandparent’s social media feeds. If your parent is on Facebook or Instagram, look at their privacy settings and make sure it’s not open for everyone to see.
There some many types of phone scams out there. Fraudsters try to lure you in with free prize draws, fake trials, bank scams, investment opportunities, bogus PPI calls and more. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Make your mum and dad aware that these old tricks are still being used and tell them to stay alert. They should never give their personal data out over the phone to a stranger – no matter what they’re offering on the other end.
Looking for the best phones for the hard of hearing? We’ve rounded up our favourites (as well as some more tech to help with scam calls).
Call Blocking Scams
Unwanted calls can be irritating and unnerving (especially if people have been scammed before), and call blocking services can help to prevent them. However, some scammers are taking advantage and selling call blocking devices that don’t work.
Tell your parent about this, and remind them that reputable call blocking services (such as BT) would not cold call. If call blocking is a concern, they can either add numbers for free to a blacklist (call 1572 from a BT landline) or buy a special phone like this one which blocks numbers.
There are also free apps to help protect against telemarketing scams if your parent has a smartphone. These apps use crowdsourcing to identify phone numbers involved in scams or frauds and that can be automatically blocked. Here are a few of the top caller ID and scam blocking apps for both Android and iOS.
Hiya is one of the most widely used apps for caller ID and blocking spam calls. You can set it to automatically block calls from numbers that have been reported as a scam or spam repeatedly, and block new numbers that scammers use. You can also report the number so others using the app know to avoid it.
Truecaller is another reliable and popular app to protect yourself against unwanted calls and to know immediately if a new number is a scam as reported by others who received the same call.
Fraud Warning Signs
Yes there are lots of scams out there, but if you know the fraud warning signs to look for, they are avoidable. Most scams share the same characteristics. Here are common tactics used to scam the elderly.
- Scammers feign authority, impersonating banks, charities, reputable organisations or even the police.
- They may give a sense of urgency to hurry someone – meaning your elderly relative may feel rushed into making the decision. The less time you have, the less likely to know it’s a scam.
- They start off being friendly and approachable. With loneliness amongst older adults rising, scammers use this tactic to build trust.
- Unusual payment requests should be a big fraud warning sign. No reputable source will ever ask for large payments upfront.
- Being ambiguous to fool the recipient. If their answer seems to change depending on your question, don’t be fooled. You can ask for their details to call them back if you feel you’re being pushed into something.
Concrete Steps to Take When Fraud Has Already Occurred
It’s important to report any suspicious phone calls, internet fraud, bogus callers or phishing emails. Follow our checklist for reporting a scam.
Reassure Your Parent
Your loved one may feel embarrassed about being scammed, or lose confidence in their decision making. Remind them that scams can happen to anyone, and help them work through this.
You can also check out Get Safe Online for free expert advice on this topic.
Inform Your Bank Of The Scam
Use the phone number on the back of your card to ring the bank and inform them of the scam. Ask them to freeze any payments that haven’t yet gone through and ask to be put through to their fraud department. It is also a good idea to set up bank notifications on your parent’s mobile phone when transactions occur.
Contact Action Fraud
Fraud is a crime and it needs to be reported. Encourage your parent to contact Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cyber crime (or contact them for them). They have a wealth of information to help you understand what you need to do to protect your elderly parent against further fraud too. The Action Fraud contact number is 0300 123 2040 (Monday to Friday, 8am – 8pm) or contact them online 24/7.
Appeal To The Ombudsman
If the bank refuses to reimburse the funds, you can go to the ombudsman and report the dispute. This template letter from Which? could help.
CIFAS Fraud Prevention
CIFAS are the experts in fraud prevention. They have a database with thousands of records of fraudulent activity, updated in realtime, which helps to keep people safe. You can sign up to this for a small fee and record and check other potential scams here.
Experian Credit Check
Sign up to Experian, and get alterted if anyone tries to take out credit in your parent’s name. You can also be named on this if you are POA.
Check Device For Malware
Your parent may inadvertently download malware onto their mobile phone, tablet or computer. If you’re worried, book in at the Apple Genius bar or contact their device manufacturer for next steps to avoid the scammer getting further info.
If you think that your elderly parent’s online banking, email or anything else that is password protected has been compromised, then change the passwords. You can always keep a note of them if they become confused.
Help Them Monitor Their Credit Reports
As consumers, we are entitled to one free credit report per year via Experian, Equifax or Credit Karma. We can monitor these for anything out of the ordinary, and Credit Karma even contacts you if there is suspicious activity e.g. a new credit card being taken out in your name.
Spread The Word
Beating scammers requires a community-wide effort. Many scammers target people in the same area, and the more we tell our neighbours what is happening, the less likely it is for the scammers to succeed.
Spread the word using social networks such as Next Door, by speaking with Neighbourhood Watch, or just by telling the neighbours. Together, people can be vigilant and look out for one another.
Anyone can fall victim to a scam, but a number of fraudsters specifically target and take advantage of older people. As such fraud continues to rise, we want to help you – their adult children – understand how we can help our elderly parents prevent being scammed. We hope you’ve found this article useful, and as ever please leave a comment to let us know any feedback.