Age UK: Taking stock on tackling scams

A growing problem?

As trading standards professionals will know only too well, older people are likely to be losing large amounts of money – and worse, facing potential health impacts – because they are targeted by scammers. Our recent report ‘Only the tip of the iceberg’ showed that over half (53%) of people aged 65+ believe they’ve been targeted by fraudsters. Recorded lottery scams increased by 41% last year, and dating scams by 34%.

Because of demographic change, the number of people with dementia is growing – expected to be 1.14 million by 2025 – and many people now have access to a pension saving cash pot. What can be done to ensure that fraudsters do not seize these new opportunities?

Warning people is important…

Warning people how to spot scams is a key part of the government’s solution. This is essential – Age UK does this through our information guides and website, and local projects with older people.

But telling people what to watch out for is not the full answer. Not only are some scams difficult for anyone to spot, for example banking impersonation on the phone, but some older people live in lonely, confused isolation. They have deeper issues to be addressed.

…but there are deeper issues

For many victims of postal scams, the mail becomes an important part of their life. Opening, responding to and storing letters form an essential part of their routine – one woman told trading standards officers ‘If you take away my mail I’ll die’.

And the scammers themselves can become a crucial part of their social life – a friendly face on the doorstep can be very welcome. This is especially true of people who are lonely – around 1 in 10 older people say they are often or always lonely.

Loneliness, isolation, poor mental health – these are the deeper issues that need to be tackled at the root. Otherwise, people may repeatedly lose money and face significant risks to health.

Partners around the table

Police and trading standards officers don’t necessarily have the time to build trusting relationships and give this in-depth, sustained support.

There are emerging examples, such as North Yorkshire, where local agencies are working together. Social care, public health, police, trading standards and the voluntary sector can have a greater impact if they combine to prevent scams and support victims.

Local Age UKs around the country can play an important role as trusted, non-statutory organisations with the skills to address the full range of older people’s needs. Some already work on scams, although, like everyone, resources are needed to scale up this work.

Tackling loneliness is an Age UK priority and many Age UKs run befriending services. Our Call in Time service provides telephone befriending to those who want a weekly conversation. Linking these kinds of services to partner agencies could have a real impact.

Building the case for action

Emerging partnership approaches – and new research at Bournemouth University – could make the case for better investment in prevention. We know that scams can damage people’s mental and physical health, with knock-on effects on health and care services.  Indeed, existing trading standards evidence shows the value of call blocking.

Scams may be a growing problem but we think working in partnership, investing in prevention and addressing people’s deeper needs can make inroads. Age UK is keen to be part of the solution.

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