Protect yourself from scams

Posted on: 17/01/2023

Most of us assume we would never fall for a scam, but with their ever-increasing sophistication, it’s getting more difficult to spot them. Around 43% of crime in the UK is fraud related, with £10bn a year being lost to fraud by victims in the UK.

Scammers are now taking advantage of our growing reliance on the internet and technology, often using careful manipulation to coerce people into handing over their personal details, bank details or even transferring money.

Older people can be less wary of potential scammers, particularly if they have dementia; this makes them more vulnerable to scams. Victims of fraud often report feeling ashamed and detail the negative impact it has on their emotional, psychological and physical welling, but you can help protect yourself or a loved one.

Here’s our guide to scams…

What is a scam?

Millions of people are targeted by scammers every year. A scam is a dishonest way to make money by deceiving people. There are many different types of scam, including:

  • Investment fraud
  • Courier fraud
  • Door-to-door fraud
  • Romance fraud
  • Abuse by a person in a position of trust

Scammers may approach you in person, by email or on social media, by post or by phone/text.

Older people may be more vulnerable because scammers often target people who:

  • live alone and may feel lonely and want to talk
  • are at home during the day
  • have money or valuables.

How to spot a scam

Scammers usually contact people by telephone, text, email or letter if they are pretending to be a company or official body, like a bank, HMRC or even the police.

Often in these messages or conversations, the fraudster will claim you owe money and must pay or face prosecution. Some are clear that they are scams but many of them can be very convincing.

Unfortunately, some scams have evolved enough to make you think you are giving details or clicking on a link to protect you from fraud, when in reality you are diving right into it. For example, there are text messages being received at the moment that claim to be from banks such as HSBC and Lloyds. These say that you have added a new payee to your personal account, with a link to click if this was not you.

It might be a scam if:

  • it seems too good to be true – for example, a holiday that’s much cheaper than you’d expect 
  • someone you don’t know contacts you unexpectedly
  • you suspect you’re not dealing with a real company – for example, if there’s no postal address
  • you’ve been asked to transfer money quickly
  • you've been asked to pay in an unusual way – for example, by gift vouchers or through a transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union
  • you’ve been asked to give away personal information like passwords or PINs
  • you haven't had written confirmation of what's been agreed
  • the correspondence is written in poor English
  • they contain a lack of information about you. Official letters will reference things like your National Insurance number, your bank account number etc. Scammers will ask for these, supposedly as proof of your identification
  • you are required to click a link. Real companies usually send you a code to use if you are verifying an account by text, or an email link immediately after you set up the account. Links from scammers can lead you to dangerous sites or infect your device, so never click them.

What to do if you think you’ve got a scam message

If a message you’ve received is clearly a scam, you can just ignore or delete it. You could be extra vigilant and report the scam to the business they are impersonating, or to Action Fraud.

Businesses that are regularly impersonated, such as banks, usually have specific email addresses or phone numbers for reporting fraud or scam messages that you can be found on their websites. Reporting a scam could help stop other people from falling victim.

If you are suspicious, but not sure, it’s best to contact the company the message is purportedly from directly. Find their contact details independently, such as through their website, rather than calling any numbers or following any links on the message you’ve received.

If you receive a scam text, it is best not to reply as it then shows the scammers that your number is active and you may receive more texts in future.

What to do if you’ve given your details to a scammer

Some scams are so convincing that many people, of all ages, give away details without a second thought. If you have, you can take action immediately to protect yourself:

  • If you’ve handed over bank details, you’ll need to contact your bank immediately. They can stop your card straight away
  • Report the fraud to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre
  • Change your passwords; some also let you add extra protection such as a secret question
  • Update your anti-virus software
  • If you’ve transferred money to the scammer in the last 24 hours, you can call the police on 101 (not 999)

Protecting someone with dementia from scams

If you have a loved one with dementia who struggles to spot scams, regularly remind them of what to look out for. Keep it simple and maybe even place written reminders by their phone or computer. These could be:

  • NEVER tell anyone your bank details
  • NEVER tell anyone your passwords
  • NEVER give anyone your bank or credit card, even if they are dressed as an official person
  • NEVER let anyone into the house who you don’t know, even if they say you do but have forgotten
  • If someone knocks on the door wanting to sell something or fix something for you, say ‘no thank you’ and shut the door. You don’t need to open the front door if you don’t feel safe
  • If you are sent a link, DO NOT click on it, ask me to look at it
  • If you are unsure, call a trusted friend or relative

Further steps you could take to protect them include:

  • Sign them up to the Telephone Preference Service. This will remove their phone number from public lists and reduce calls. It won’t remove their number from the phone book, but you can arrange for them to be ex-directory separately by speaking to their phone provider
  • Buy them a phone with a ‘block caller’ button
  • With their permission, set up an automatic forwarding from their email address to yours, so that you can quickly see all emails they receive
  • Obtain a Property and Finance Lasting Power of Attorney or a Deputyship to give you control over their finances if they lose the mental capacity to make informed decisions about their money

It’s important to stay vigilant and have the necessary measures in place to safeguard against fraud. We hope that you have found this guide useful and you now feel confident that you can protect yourself and your loved ones from scams.