Scams are crimes where the perpetrator tries to swindle the victim out of money, or out of personal information with a view to stealing their money later. Scam is a slang term for personal fraud. All scams are frauds.
It is estimated that around £10 billion is lost each year in the UK by victims of scams.
Age UK reports that 43% of older people – almost five million people aged 65 and over – believe they have been targeted by scammers. Those with dementia are at particular risk.
Scams can be committed over the phone, through the post, on the internet or face-to-face, often on the doorstep.
Because older people are more likely to live on their own, and are often lonely, they become targets for fraudsters. Age UK reports that in one study, it was found that 27% of single people responded to a scam, compared with less than a tenth of their married counterparts. In England, the number of people over 65 living on their own is expected to rise from 3.5 million in 2015 to just under five million by 2030, and the number of people with dementia is projected to rise from 850,000 now to 1.14 million by 2025. This means that in future, significantly more older people could be at risk from being scammed.
Estimated sum lost each year to scams
People over 65 who have been targeted by scammers
Proportion of scams that are ever reported
For some people, their only form of social contact is with commercial organisations, legitimate or fraudulent. They might receive telemarketing calls, emails or letters, or open the door to a scammer purporting to be a bona fide salesman or tradesman. Sometimes strong relationships can develop between scammers and their elderly victims, if a high level of contact is maintained. The average age of victims of mass-marketing postal fraud is 75.
And, once people realise they have been scammed, they often feel ashamed to have been duped and so will seldom report what has happened. It is estimated that only 5% of these crimes are ever reported.
Once a person falls victim to one con artist, their personal details are often added to what is known as “suckers lists” and sold onto other criminals, so they are targeted again and again.
The impact can be devastating – people who have been defrauded in their own homes are two and a half times more likely to die or go into residential care within a year.