How to keep your elderly relatives safe from scammers

Online banking, emails and credit cards, can be confusing at the best of times and financial scammers definitely know this. There are a few simple and easy steps we can take to help keep the money of our elderly friends or relatives safe from tricksters and fraudsters.

Unsolicited emails

A common problem for older people accessing the internet is falling victim to so called ‘phishing’ emails. 

A Fraudster will pretend to be one of a wide variety of rich people—often a foreign prince or businessman—who require transfer of a large amount of money through a bank account, for 'tax reasons', and are willing to 'pay handsomely' for the service. Other emails simply claim to be an interesting photo or video, but are in fact links to viruses and spyware that can access any financial data held on the computer or device. The email client’s junk or spam detector often filters such emails, but a few will inevitably slip the net.

An internet savvy user can often tell this kind of fraudulent email on sight, but older, less experienced web surfers might not see it in the same light. It is often a good idea to tell older users not to reply or open unsolicited or unrecognised emails at all. After all, as the old saying goes, you're better safe than sorry.


PIN numbers and cards

Never ever give out your PIN.

One simple piece of advice—yet one that might not be so obvious to a trusting and sometimes bewildered older person—is never give your card or PIN number to anyone—no matter who they claim to be. A recent scam doing the rounds in the UK involves a scammer phoning an elderly person pretending to be from the police or the bank and informing them their card has been used fraudulently. They then ask for the PIN number and bank details, which they can use to access the victims funds. Make sure you remind elderly relatives that the bank or the police will never ask for you to hand over your card details or PIN number.


Door-to-door sales

Unscrupulous door-to-door salesman or rogue traders may deliberately target elderly people. 

They believe they may be able to bully their way into taking cash for sub-standard (or even non-existent) products and services that, in many cases, the victim did not even want or need. One way to help your older relatives avoid these kind of scams is to put a notice on the door saying ‘no cold callers’, and to explain to your relatives that they shouldn't talk to unsolicited house callers and if they do, to never part with cash without taking time to think first. If you notice cold callers are often harassing a relative, it might be a good idea to inform neighbours or the police, who can keep an eye out for their wellbeing.


Unlicensed financial advisors

Regulations regarding commission made from sales have prevented a large number of financial advisors scamming money from the elderly, but there are still rogues out there.

Whether it's a saving, investment, tax efficient savings, and so on, It's always worth while to be cautious when approached by unsolicited financial advisors. The following bodies will have information on this if you fear that a relative (or yourself) is being scammed: 

  • Trading Standards
  • Financial Conduct Authority
  • Citizens Advice


Is your elderly relative being scammed?

There isn't always an easy way to tell whether an elderly relative is being scammed. The best way is to observe their behaviour, particularly when it comes to money.

  • Have spending habits changed?
  • Are they suddenly borrowing money/more money than previous?
  • Do they suddenly become withdrawn when discussing money?

Other signs may include:

  • Receiving a large amount of junk mail as they have been added to the cruelly titled 'sucker list' by fraudsters
  • Similarly, they may be receiving a large amount of phone calls
  • The mentioning/sudden arrival of a new person when it comes to investments and money advice
  • They are simply not themselves, particularly around the subject of money.


The following advice is recommended

Citizens Advice suggests the following preventative information:

  • Never give out their name, address, bank account details or any other personal information
  • Speak to someone they trust before replying to any offer
  • Never trust someone who says they’ve won a prize
  • Do not ring any number they are given to claim a prize  
  • Never send money to anyone to claim a prize
  • Help them to ask Royal Mail to redirect their post either to you or another trusted friend or relative
  • Help them sign up to the free Telephone and Mailing Preference Services, which cuts down unwanted phone calls, texts and post.