Louise Baxter MBE National Trading Standards scams team

Almost 5 million older people are targeted by scams every year.

Postal, insurance, lottery – even romance scams.

There is evidence that loneliness is linked with deterioration in health. Around a million (10 per cent) older people are termed ‘chronically lonely’ at any given time in the UK which will seriously increase their risk of suffering mental and physical illness . Loneliness also puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline which is a key factor that contributes to becoming a victim of a scam. Furthermore, victims of scams are often lonely and engage with a scammer more readily than other people because of their natural need for human interaction.

This isn’t a weakness.

There’s a scam out there for everyone – but it’s a fact that older people or those with dementia are less more likely to be targeted by certain types of scams and are more likely to be added to a victim list and be repeatedly targeted.

The criminals attempt to defraud people with flashy, official looking documents or websites, or convincing telephone sales patter, with the aim of persuading them to undertake an action and part with money.

Many people are scammed, and many feel shame – which could be why only 5% of scams are ever reported. It is important to remember that scams are fraud and fraud is a crime.

When describing people targeted, I dislike using the word ‘vulnerable’ because it is disempowering. It’s someone’s circumstances that make them vulnerable.

In this way, someone with dementia may have a fluctuating capacity, which makes them more vulnerable to scams.

So it’s important we know what to look out for. Whether your suspicions are aroused or not, ask yourself: 

  • Is the person receiving lots of mail?
  • Is their phone ringing a lot more?
  • Are they making more frequent trips to the post office?
  • Do they have less disposable income than before?
  • Are they mentioning a ‘new friend’? 
Any of these could be a sign that someone is being scammed.

Friends Against Scams is a National Trading Standards (NTS) Scams Team initiative, which aims to protect and prevent people from becoming victims of scams by empowering communities to "Take a Stand Against Scams".

I’m looking for people to sign up as Friends and SCAMchampions, SCAMchampions are asked to host awareness sessions to drive Friends Against Scams forward in their communities or workplace.

In addition, I’m recruiting SCAMbassadors – MPs, senior officials or someone who will use their influence to raise the profile of scams at a national level. SCAMbassadors can raise the issue of scams as a key topic of concern in parliament and encourage their local authority to sign up to Friends Against Scams.

I’ve seen people affected whose wellbeing is under threat, as well as their financial circumstances. Losing thousands of pounds is one thing, but being scared in your own home is a frightening prospect. People who already feel lonely could feel even more isolated and ashamed, and in a society that’s moving evermore towards person-centred care, that’s not something we want to see.

As a trading standards officer I have always focused on consumer advice and education – I strongly believe that protection and prevention is better than cure – and we have worked with mail providers, law enforcement and local authorities to identify possible victims and disrupt criminals.

Think about your loved ones, your neighbours and how the simple steps above could help protect them. The more people who know how to spot scams, the better.