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It is estimated that frauds and scams targeting individuals in the UK cost around £6 billion per year.
Every year, thousands of people fall victim to various frauds and scams, and many of these go unreported, with the victim receiving no compensation for their financial loss.
Fraudsters may target the older members of our communities as they are perceived as being more vulnerable, often living alone and with no immediate support to protect or advise them.
It should be noted that older people are less liable to become victims of crime in comparison with every other age group.
Nevertheless, it is vital for you to be aware of some of the scams that are out there, as well as knowing what to do if you think that you have been a victim of a fraud or scam.
The types of frauds and scams being perpetrated change and grow all the time so it is almost impossible to list every type of scam. However, with an awareness of the typical warning signs of fraud, and by taking simple precautionary steps to avoid becoming a victim of a scam, we can all reduce the risk of losing out to fraudsters.
Types of Scams and How To Protect Yourself
Below is an introduction to some of the scams that we may encounter at any stage in our life. This does not, however, serve as a definitive guide to every type of fraud.
The golden rule is always to seek advice and report anything you are unsure about, and never give your money or details to anyone unless you have verified their identity and are assured they are trustworthy.Back to top
Fake Prize Draw Scams
This is a very common scam. We have all received unsolicited mail which states we have won a prize draw or lottery but that we need to pay a fee to access our prize.
If you respond to this type of contact, the volume of mail from this source often increases dramatically and you will almost feel pressured to respond.
In the majority of cases, money is paid but no prize is ever sent, or a prize item is sent of significantly lesser value than the fee originally paid.
Similar scams involve unsolicited contact, often from abroad, stating you have inherited money in a will but that fees must be paid to release it.
These scams involve adverts and e-mails claiming to offer miracle cures for various diseases, or offer health products with supposedly miraculous benefits.
In some cases no product will ever be sent when payment is made, or the product will not have the benefit claimed.
Looking after your health in later life is of vital importance, and you should consult your GP before purchasing or using any treatment not prescribed or recommended by them.
Scams of these types involve a range of activities, including posing as a genuine representative of a utility company in an attempt to burgle your home, carrying out fake surveys to obtain personal data, or engaging in pressurised or misleading sales techniques.
Older people can be particularly vulnerable to these sorts of activities and you should never grant someone access to your property without being sure of their identity.
Detailed information is available from Action Fraud.
Pension Liberation Scams
These scams, often operating online, but sometimes by post or telephone, offer victims the chance of releasing funds from private pensions early.
While some are genuine schemes, many do not fully advise on the risks or tax implications of pension liberation.
Some specifically target vulnerable older people, and often fail to provide clear information about the fees for the service. Some are not in a position to offer the returns promised.
Older people are clearly more at risk of falling foul of these sorts of schemes and you should visit Action Fraud if you need more information.
Advance Fee Fund Release Scam
This is a very common fraud where an unsolicited e-mail promises the release of significant sums of money from abroad, but requires an advance payment to be made first.
There will in fact be no funds to pay you, and victims can be targeted repeatedly once payment is first made.
You should never respond to e-mails such as this, and should report it immediately if you have done so.
This is a common online scam where an e-mail is received, alleging to be from your bank or some other financial services provider you deal with online.
They will request your security details, stating they need to verify information on your account. Once you respond you will have potentially given fraudsters your personal security details.
Your bank will never contact you in this way to request your security details
If you have responded to such a request, you should contact your bank immediately to report it.
Tips for Avoiding Scams
There are a number of ways we can protect ourselves against fraud and scams. Fraudsters will always be developing new ways to con the public out of their money, but by following a few basic principles, we can significantly reduce the risk of becoming a victim.
Be safe online
Many scams take place online, so if you are using the internet, it is vital that ensure you access it safely and securely.
You should install anti-virus software, and a firewall, as well as ensuring that you keep them up-to-date. You should also make sure that you are aware how to bank and shop online safely if you use these services.
Support and advice with online safety is available from Age NI if you need it.
Too good to be true?
If an offer sounds too good to be true, then it probably is!
This applies particularly when you receive unsolicited contact from a company you are not familiar with, or have never used before. Never hand over your details or money until you have checked that it is a genuine company and offer. Do not be afraid to question salespeople in detail, and if in doubt, say no.
Be safe on the doorstep
If you receive unsolicited contact from a company or individual on the doorstep, either for sales purposes or claiming they need access to your property, always be sure who you are dealing with first.
Any reputable company will provide their staff with ID, which you should always check first. Do not be afraid to be suspicious - telephone the company on a publicly advertised number to check the representative is genuine, or ask the caller to come back at another time when you can arrange to have a friend or family member present for support.
The golden rule is to say no if you are unsure
You do not have to deal with anyone on your doorstep if you do not feel comfortable dealing with them.
Support and advice on being safe on the doorstep is available if you need it from Age NI.
You should also use the Police Service's QuickCheck to verify the identity of a doorstep caller if you feel unsure. If the callers are genuine, they will not mind whatsoever.
Beware of advance payment requests
Many scams start with the promise of rewards which are dependent on you paying an up front advance fee first.
Always be very wary of such requests, especially if it is unsolicited contact from an unfamiliar company, particularly from abroad.
Say no to pressurised sales
A common feature of fraudulent salespersons is the insistence on immediate up-front payment to avoid missing out on the deal.
If you feel rushed or pressured into making a purchase, it will usually be best to say no and research the company you are dealing with first.
Beware of phishing
Phishing is one of the most common online scams. Your bank will never contact you by phone or e-mail to request account or security information.
Ignore any such requests and report them to your bank.
Keep your personal data secure
Fraudsters can use our personal data to set up fake accounts and make payments in your name.
It is therefore very important to keep your personal data secure. Shred anything with personal details on it (name, address, date of birth, bank details, National Insurance number etc) and keep your personal documents in a safe and secure place.
Advice and support on protecting your identity is available if you need it from NI Direct.
What To Do If You Are the Victim of a Scam
Even if we follow good practice and take precautions against fraud, anyone can still be unfortunate enough to be caught out.
Our helpful guide explains what to do if you find yourself in this situation.
Defrauding or scamming someone out of their money is in most cases a criminal offence, carried out by sophisticated fraudsters.
You should not feel embarrassed at being caught out, as it can happen to anyone. Action Fraud offers a wealth of specialist support and advice.
Inform your bank
If you are concerned that you may have given your bank details or security information to a fraudster, tell your bank immediately.
They will be able to take steps to ensure that your accounts are protected and monitored.
Beware of follow up scams
Some fraudulent schemes will contact victims of the scam claiming to be from a fraud prevention body who can help you recoup your losses.
Fraud prevention bodies will not make unsolicited contact with victims, so you should be very wary of responding to any such contact, particularly if they request payment or personal information from you.
For more information see Action Fraud.
Try to get your money back
If you have been the victim of a scam, there are ways you can try and get your money back, particularly if you paid money out on your debit or credit card.
For more help, visit Money Advice Service.
Scamwise NI is an initiative set up in partnership with the PSNI, Northern Ireland Policing Board, Department of Justice, Commissioner for Older persons, the Consumer Council, Trading Standards and Age Sector Platform. Get your copy of the 'Little Book of Big Scams' and protect yourself against online and offline fraud.