The most common targets of typical scams – in person, over the phone and by text or online - are older people. They’re more successful when the person being targeted is trusting, unfamiliar with technology, or – of course – if they have dementia or other cognitive impairment. How can you protect your parents, or other vulnerable adults in your family or neighbourhood, from scams and dodgy deals?
We think it starts with a conversation. Covid-19 has provided scammers with new opportunities to take advantage of people feeling isolated or scared, with scams ranging from text messages asking for bank details to get a vaccine dose, fake test and trace texts, and even romance/friendship scams which manipulate people into giving out confidential information or money. There’s nothing more topical than Covid, sadly, so what this does is provide an opening for your first conversation.
Of course, in order to have that conversation, you need to know more about what to look out for. And while there are plenty of clumsy, transparent scamming attempts, generally scams are becoming more sophisticated and easier to fall for.
The most common scams
Fake NHS text: a vaccine-related text, seemingly from the NHS. The SMS message contains a link to a fake NHS website, where you are asked to give personal information and banking details to verify your ID. In reality, coronavirus vaccines are free and you are never asked for bank details or identity details on an NHS website.
NHS test and trace scam: a telephone call where you are told you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive, and you need to pay for a test. But NHS Test and Trace doesn’t charge for tests, doesn’t use a premium rate phone number, and never asks for bank details, PIN numbers or passwords.
Fake government texts: fake SMS messages offering you a support payment when you follow a link, or claiming that you must pay a fine.
Doorstep COVID-19 scam: an unannounced visitor pretending to be testing for coronavirus on behalf of the GP surgery or the NHS generally. No GP surgery or NHS body will ever send anyone unsolicited and the NHS does not do testing door-to-door.
Health equipment scam: a phone call or even an unsolicited visit purporting to be about physical health needs and attempting to survey the home for safety. These are either an attempt to gain bank details or a distraction for burglary.
Anything – online ads, emails or phone calls – advertising Covid life insurance, sanitiser or face masks. Never buy from an untrusted source.
Technical support scams: typically, this involves receiving a telephone call, supposedly from your ISP (internet provider), where you are told your computer security is at risk, or your internet speed needs checking, or your PC needs an update. These may be easy to fall for because we’ve all had slow computers or internet service from time to time! The advice here is to hang up and, if you do have poor internet, call using the number found on the official bills.
Ofcom scams: similar to the ISP scam, this involves a call supposedly from Ofcom about your broadband, usually saying it needs to be switched off or have the speed changed. You’re asked to press a button to speak to an operator about your broadband. Ofcom does not make these calls and you should never press the button.
TV Licence scams: the contents vary, but these are phone calls or emails claiming to be from TV Licensing and trying to convince you to give over various personal or banking information. As ever, don’t give out personal or financial info, download attachments or click on links. Instead, type https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/ into your browser to get in touch directly.
HMRC scams: usually a phone call threatening prosecution for unpaid tax. In reality, the HMRC does not make these phone calls without sending an official letter by post, containing a reference number which they will quote to you – rather than ask you to quote to them. They also never ask for payment there and then.
Doorstep scams: as well as the Covid or health-related doorstep scams, the ones we’ve all heard about still go on: emergency gas, water or electricity provider visits. Never let anyone in without first phoning the company they claim to work for to check whether they have sent someone, and the name of that person. Don’t call a number the doorstep caller provides – get it from existing bills, the phone book or the official organisation website.
The same general rule applies to not buying from or allowing into the house any cold caller, whether that’s someone from a young offender rehabilitation scheme, military support scheme, or double-glazing salesman/builder/roofer.
How to protect your vulnerable relatives from scams
As we mentioned earlier, it all starts with a tactful conversation to raise awareness without making them needlessly frightened.
If you or a trusted family member can be readily available – even by phone – at short notice, make it clear that you can always be contacted for help in any of the above circumstances.
Write reminder notes for your relative to keep beside their phone and computer – even stuck on the wall by the front door. These need only be simple:
There are other steps you could consider, too, like buying a phone with a call blocker to block scam numbers, making sure they are ex-directory and signing them up to the Telephone Preference Service.
If they’re happy to do this, you could arrange for all email they receive to be copied to your email address so you can keep an eye out for scams.
If you think you or a relative are being scammed, save the details and report them to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or at https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/.
The Citizen’s Advice Bureau has put together a handy guide to checking for scams: