How to help an older person avoid being scammed

Written by Jack Walsh02/05/23


Living Well

Fraud can happen to anyone, but it’s often directed towards vulnerable individuals such as older people. A report by Age UK indicates that almost five million people aged 65 and over, 43% of the population, believe scammers have targeted them.

Scammers target older people who may be socially isolated or lonely, as they may be more vulnerable targets to their tactics – sometimes mistaking their actions for kindness, or being unaware what they’re being asked to do isn’t normal practice. Scams are becoming far more convincing, and the use of technology is making it easier for scammers to access large sums of money quickly. 

Research suggests that many Elderly victims who fall for scams may not report the crime due to shame or embarrassment. It’s estimated that only a small percentage, approximately 5%, of these incidents are reported.

When assisting elderly individuals with their finances, it’s essential to understand potential risks and warning signs and take measures to prevent them.

What is a scam? 

Scams cheat people out of their money. Scammers can approach you in person, by mail, phone or online, and they may pretend or provide misleading offers of services or investments. With the rise of digital communication, scams are becoming more common, and more people are being tricked. To protect yourself, learn how scams work and what you can do if you suspect a scam. 

The different types of scams

Scammers may obtain personal and financial information through various types of fraud, here is a list of the common types:

Phone scams may pose as trustworthy companies and request sensitive information such as birth dates, bank details, or passwords from their targeted victims. Phone calls will sometimes be tech support scams, where they claim there is a problem with your computer and ask for remote access to it rather than asking directly for your personal details. Once they have access, they can either take important files ‘hostage’ or claim they require an upfront payment to fix a technical error that doesn’t exist. 

Online scams involve fraud where scammers attempt to gain access to personal information through email phishing scams, pop-up ads which may use logos or branding from recognisable companies, and other methods, similar to phone scams.

Romance scams involve cybercriminals who use deceptive tactics to gain trust and obtain sensitive information by posing as someone else. This can often involve gaining emotional trust from the victim, so they can easily commit financial fraud by making a request for money, or asking for presents such as gift cards or other items from online shopping.

Text scams or ‘smishing’ involves impersonating credible businesses through text messages, aiming to steal personal details or financial identity and data, or encourage them to download malicious software onto their mobile devices. These scams almost always include a false link to a form for the receiver to click on and leave their information. In recent years there’s been a rise in scammers posing as parcel delivery companies – text messages will state that they’ve been unable to deliver a package or require additional postage costs. Scammers may also claim to be a son or daughter who has lost their phone or is facing an emergency and needs financial help quickly. 

Postal scams can take on many forms, including letters requesting money, messages from supposed clairvoyants, claims of lottery wins, and Ponzi schemes, all crafted in a cleverly-written manner by scammers.

Door-to-door scams usually involve a person offering household products or maintenance services at an inflated price. However, doorstep selling isn’t always a scam, many reputable companies and charities do call around people’s homes – often enlisting third-party sales companies to do this on their behalf. In these instances, they should always have a verifiable form of I.D. However, it can be easy for older people to feel pressured into purchasing something they don’t need, or signing up for donations they can’t afford, especially if they are living with cognitive decline. Any purchase made from a reputable company is protected by consumer rights laws, and if it’s over £42, they are required to offer a 14-day cooling-off period. 

Investment scams often target older people because many have built up assets and savings over their lifetime. The scammer will convince an individual to invest in a ‘low-risk’ venture with guaranteed returns. Often the thing they’re investing in doesn’t exist, and the scammer will be evasive when answering questions while asking for increasing sums of money. 

Scams on social media platforms

Scammers can access personal information shared on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. This includes not just obvious information, but even a photo of a driving license can give away personal data. Even sharing that you’re on holiday can let fraudsters know that the person is not at home, allowing them to snoop if they know the person’s address.

One tactic common on Facebook is to gather information via quizzes. These quizzes will often ask you for things like your month or year of birth, pet’s name, or the first street you lived on – and give you a personalised result based on the information you provide. However, while this may seem like harmless fun, the specific information they’re asking for mirrors the security questions used for online account recovery or resetting forgotten passwords – allowing scammers to impersonate people and access their accounts. 

Social media platforms can assist older individuals in maintaining social connections. Still, it’s essential to take precautions to ensure their safety while using these platforms and make sure they know about privacy settings and who to allow access to their profiles.


A guide to recognising potential scams

When it comes to common scams, the specific type of scam will determine what to watch out for. However, certain signs of fraud can be shared with elderly individuals to be cautious of.

  • If the person they’re talking to cannot provide proof of identity. If presented with an I.D., it’s a good idea to ask them to wait and contact the company they’re claiming to be from using the phone number from their official website (not a number they give you themselves). Official representatives of a company will not mind waiting while you validate their information. 


  • Caution should be exercised if someone requests sensitive personal information or documents, such as bank and card details – for example, if someone is on the phone saying they’re from the person’s bank or financial institution trying to provide financial assistance, they should hang up and call the advertised number of their bank to ask if this is true. A bank will never ask you to confirm your pin number. 


  • They’re receiving unsolicited phone calls, or communications that they weren’t expecting relating to money or requiring payment. 


  • If they’re contacting them several times a day or aggressively speaking to them, this could indicate that they’re up to no good, and probably trying to commit financial abuse.


  • Scammers also rely on people making rash decisions due to scare tactics or undue influence. If there is a high sense of urgency, don’t be afraid to end the communication and reach out directly to the company to confirm what you’ve been told. 


  • If emails or text messages claiming to be professional businesses contain spelling errors or other inconsistencies that wouldn’t be made by a national bank or energy company.


  • Thoroughly check any links before clicking on them. Signs a link may be suspicious include – 
    • It doesn’t match the companies website address that they are claiming to be from
    • It contains a string of random letters or numbers
    • It doesn’t contain HTTPS at the beginning of the link
    • You’re unfamiliar with the company name or words in the link, or it doesn’t match the context of the rest of the message
    • You weren’t expecting to receive it. 


  • Check the email address that has sent the suspicious email – if it’s a personal email address such as ‘outlook’ or ‘Gmail’ this is unlikely to be from a credible company or business.


Steps to take if you have fallen victim to a scam.

The following tips are practical and can be applied to anyone, not just elderly relatives.

  • Remain calm.


  • It’s recommended to keep a record of phone conversations, emails and text messages for documentation purposes.


  • In the event of a scam, contact your bank or credit card company using the number on the back of your card straight away. Their fraud teams are available to assist you.


  • If you or someone you know has been a victim of Fraud, you can contact Action Fraud, which serves as the national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime in the UK.


  • Checking your credit score is recommended to identify any changes resulting from suspicious activity. The Equifax Credit Report & Score is free during a 30-day trial, followed by a monthly charge of £10.95, and provides individuals with unlimited online access to their borrowing history and score – so you can be sure whether you’ve been a victim of credit card fraud or other financial scams.


It’s essential to take precautions to prevent fraud. If caring for elderly individuals, encourage communication and address any questions or concerns they may have regarding online safety and financial security.

If you’re worried about an older person being vulnerable, and a potential fraud victim, Companionship care organised by Elder, can ensure a companion is always there when they need for support, safety, and a helping hand with everyday life. 

For more information and resources

If you need more information on how to best avoid all the potential types of scams, especially senior citizen scams, see Age UK‘s detailed guide here.


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