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It’s ok to say no! Protecting the vulnerable from scams.

Recently we have seen incidents where elderly and vulnerable people have been the victim of unscrupulous criminals who target them specifically.

They prey on the elderly as they are unfortunately more likely to fall for internet or online fraud and are more likely to say “yes” if someone knocks on the door or cold calls them on the phone. Help us stop them!

Man on telephone

Recognising the signs of a fraud, scam, distraction burglar or rogue trader is half the battle. Do you know what to look for and could you help educate a neighbour, friend or relative?

Over recent months in Somerset alone we have seen cold-callers selling over-priced cleaning products, rogue traders forcing elderly people to take them to the bank to withdraw large sums for half-completed jobs, distraction burglars coning their way into homes pretending to be from utility companies or collecting magazine subscriptions, online email scams and even scammers calling people to ask for cash pretending to be police officers!

These criminals are really clever and creative and it’s not just the elderly, vulnerable and the less “tech-savvy” that are taken in. We are all at risk of online fraud. There are many ways they try to trick their victims, but there are signs to help you identify a fraud, scam or con and protect yourself – for example:

  • You receive an email from a stranger saying you have won money. Be warned -  if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  • HMRC or a “bank” send an email asking you to confirm bank details or send money to sort out a problem. Your bank will already have your details. It’s probably a scam.
  • A cold caller knocks on the door saying they need to come in to check something or that there is a problem with the roof/boiler/drains etc . They could be a distraction burglar.
  • A cold caller offers goods or services on the doorstep without providing a quote in writing. They might be offering work you don’t need at inflated prices. It’s better to commission work as and when you need it and to get quotes in writing.
  • Someone claiming to be from the police calls and asks for bank details or to send cash as there is a problem with your account. Don’t give them anything. We would never ask you for money or bank details.
  • Someone claiming to be from Microsoft or another online company calls asking for your login details and password. They want to gain access to your computer or tablet.

Arthur*, 82, from Congresbury is the victim of an online scam

It was discovered recently that he has been the victim of an online scam for two years, sending money to someone in Africa, posing as a UK bank. He is now £21k in debt. He refused to believe that he had been the victim begin with, following intervention by his family and Social Services he has now recognised that he has been conned and the matter is being investigated.

The impact of this type of crime is wide and far-reaching. For Arthur, it not only means a financial loss, but he also has to come to terms with the fact that he was deceived. For his daughter, Gilly*, she has had to cope with the worry and deal with the difficult conversations with her Father. She is now involved with the police and partner agencies to try and sort out a plan to safeguard her Dad.

She said: “It’s such a worry. I don’t want Dad to be on his own now. I think it is disgusting and despicable that criminals target the older generation in this way. I would encourage everyone to stop this from happening to people they love by talking to them, be nosey if you have to.  Help educate them and go through some security tips and online crime prevention.”

We understand that this sounds rather alarming but the good news is that there are some very simple but effective things you can do to protect yourself from this type of crime.  Firstly - if you aren’t sure, don’t open the door. Just say no and turn them away.

Online, if you get an unsolicited email asking for bank details just delete it…don’t reply. The same with phone calls, if someone calls asking for money, bank details or access to your computer just hang up.  It might seem rude but… by just by saying “no”, you can avoid becoming a victim of crime.

Chief Superintendent Ian Wylie, District Commander for Somerset, said: “These criminals purposefully target the elderly and vulnerable. The impact of their crimes isn’t just financial loss, for many it can have a detrimental effect emotionally, mentally and in some cases physically.

Man trying to enter woman's home

“Most elderly we victims we speak to say they feel embarrassed and ashamed, and they shouldn’t. These criminals are sophisticated and creative with their lies. But there are ways we can work together to stop it from happening in the first place. Prevention is better than cure.”

Angela* 71, from Nailsea experienced credit card fraud as the result of an online email scam.

She is not “elderly” and certainly not what people would typically classify as “vulnerable”.

She said: “I received an email from “HMRC” saying I needed to send them some details in order for them to process my rebate. The email looked absolutely legitimate so I filled in all the information they asked for.

“Several months later I got a call from M&S Financial Services to say that they had frozen my credit card as they had detected a fraud. Someone had made two transactions on the card in Stratford, London and then had tried to spend £2,000 in John Lewis, which is when they had blocked the card.

“It transpired that the fraudsters had called M&S and by using all the security information I had previously supplied in the supposed HMRC email, they were able to obtain a new card and get it sent to them.

“I felt so angry with myself for being stupid. I’m not a doddery old lady, I also used to work in the financial industry, but they were so convincing. This experience did shake me up. I really don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

*We have changed people's names to protect their identities.

Please talk to any elderly or vulnerable people you know. Help them to understand some of the ways of recognising scams and frauds, and the simple steps they can take to minimise the risk of becoming a victim.

Sign up to either a No Cold Calling Zone or Nominated Neighbour Scheme in your area, or let your neighbours know that they can direct cold callers to you to answer any questions. That alone is often enough of a deterrent. You can also become a member of Neighbourhood Watch.

Please let us know if you, neighbours or friends receive any cold callers, it is always useful to know when they are in our area and we can take positive steps once we know they are there.  The same applies for any suspected online or telephone scams. Please let us know.

 There is plenty of advice and support available. If you suspect someone has been the victim of crime, you can report it online via our website www.avonandsomerset.police.uk or call the 101 number. If someone is at risk or needs an immediate police response, please always dial 999.

Woman online shopping