The elderly could be suffering a ‘silent epidemic’ of fraud after it emerged the over-70s have lost almost £1 billion over the past three years.
And experts fear the true figure could be higher, as many pensioners are too scared to report crimes or don’t realise they’ve been a victim.
Money Mail analysis of Action Fraud figures reveals scam victims aged over 70 lost about £977 million in total between April 2019 and 2022.
‘Silent epidemic’: Our analysis of Action Fraud figures reveals that scam victims aged over 70 lost almost £977 million in total between April 2019 and 2022
The very elderly, aged between 90 and 99, reported £116 million stolen, an average of £6,097 each.
And this is despite the age group accounting for 19,059 of the total 178,772 cases logged among the over-70s.
People in their 20s and 30s typically reported the most incidents of fraud, but their losses averaged less than half those of the over-90s, at £2,391 — £825 million over the same period.
Of all age groups, it was victims in their 50s who suffered the biggest total loss in each one of the three years, Action Fraud’s figures show.
Professor Keith Brown, formerly of Bournemouth University and an expert in safeguarding adults, says: ‘The fraud that occurs among elderly people who live alone is under-reported. Many older victims are too ashamed to come forward.
‘And vulnerable elderly people, such as those with dementia, are at higher risk as they are unlikely to realise they have been scammed.
‘It’s a silent epidemic. If you have elderly relatives, or people you care for, you can almost assume they are going to be a victim.’
The Daily Mail revealed last month that Britain has become the fraud capital of the world and is campaigning for a major overhaul to the system.
When confronted with this investigation on LBC radio, technology and digital economy minister Chris Philp admitted fraud is a ‘huge problem’ and — ‘shockingly’ — still growing.
‘Identity theft left me vulnerable’
An identity thief used Annette Culshaw’s details to sign up to a £39.70 a month O2 contract
A retired photographer is worried her credit rating will be ruined after she fell victim to identity fraud.
Annette Culshaw, 72, received a letter last month claiming she had bought an Apple iPhone and signed up to a 36-month contract with O2, costing £39.70 a month.
She went straight to her local O2 shop, but says they merely told her she had been a victim of identity fraud, and gave her a number for their fraud team.
Annette, who lives with her husband in Kent, posted about her experience on local website Nextdoor, and discovered that within a five-mile radius of her home ten other people had fallen victim to the same scam.
Annette is now worried she will be hit with further debt demands, which could impact her credit rating.
She says: ‘I feel vulnerable and scared about other things being bought in my name that I won’t know about until I get letters requesting payment.’
After Money Mail intervened, an O2 spokesperson confirmed they had closed the fraudulent account.
He also warned that Google and Facebook need to do ‘a lot more’ to stop people’s money disappearing ‘in a puff of smoke’ after responding to a fraudulent advert online.
One major bank says its figures also show the amount of money lost to fraud increases with the victim’s age.
Liz Ziegler, director of fraud and financial crime at Lloyds Bank, explains: ‘Older people tend to be at higher risk of more complex scams, like investment, impersonation or romance scams, with fraudsters going to great lengths to convince their victim to hand over their cash.
‘This is in contrast to the more common purchase scam, where we typically see younger people tricked into buying things such as fake trainers, with the amounts involved smaller overall but occurring more frequently.’
Experts suggest older generations are more at risk from impersonation scams, where they are pressured into sending money to crooks posing as banks and tax officials, as they are more obedient when confronted by figures of authority.
Fraudsters also know younger people typically have less money to lose, whereas those approaching retirement have often accrued large sums of savings.
Professor Brown adds: ‘It’s about loneliness, too. Older people who live alone and do not have someone in the house to “sense check” things are more susceptible to coercive control.’
The concerns follow reports last week that sensitive and private data of wealthy elderly people is being sold to scammers on Facebook for as little as 16p.
Posts advertising data for sale such as ‘UK old age high income leads’ are prevalent on the social networking site, according to an investigation by the BBC.
‘I felt desolate after £6,000 loss’
Tricked: David Bale handed over £6,000 to scammers posing as TSB employees
David Bale, 77, from Peterborough was tricked into handing over £6,000 to scammers who posed as TSB Bank employees.
The crooks called to say his account had been compromised and that he needed to transfer his money to a ‘safe account’.
David was suspicious at first, but reassured by the fact they knew his password and special phrase as well as his mother’s maiden name.
So he allowed them to transfer £6,000 from his current and savings account as requested.
But he had a sinking feeling the moment he put the phone down and called TSB’s fraud department immediately.
The former actor and English teacher says: ‘I felt completely desolate really. It wasn’t the loss of the money — it was the feeling that I’d been completely made a fool of.’
He later discovered the fraudsters had access to his personal details because he had fallen victim to another scam three months earlier.
David had received an email to say his television licence fee had not been paid, and provided his bank details,
The criminals had then used this information to convince him that they were calling from his bank.
He says: ‘There are a lot of these scams, and they’re getting more and more convincing. And it’s increasingly dangerous for elderly people and people who are less familiar with the internet.’
TSB reimbursed him the £6,000 under its fraud refund guarantee scheme.
Around 85 per cent of over-65s have been targeted by a scam this year, according to Citizens Advice. And nearly a third of over-65s are bombarded by scam calls, texts and emails daily, a YouGov survey revealed. But experts fear many of those who fall victim are not telling the police or their bank.
More than 900,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. This is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.
People over 70 are far more likely to be preyed on by nuisance callers, according to National Trading Standards (NTS).
Those who respond to scam calls and mail can be added onto ‘suckers’ lists’, leading to people being repeatedly targeted. The average age of someone on this type of list is 73, according to NTS.
These victims can also be regularly asked for charity donations or pressured into buying goods.
Age UK has previously warned that older people are at increased risk of doorstep crime.
The Mail heard from one 95-year-old victim who was harassed at home by fraudsters posing as their bank. The crook called to say the account had been drained by scammers and that a courier would be sent to destroy his bank card.
Duped: Experts suggest older generations are more at risk from impersonation scams, where they are pressured into sending money to crooks posing as banks, tax officials and the police
A woman turned up ten minutes later, with a pair of scissors, and pretended to cut up his debit card. But it was a ruse and the criminals used his card to steal £2,300.
A relative told the Mail the elderly man has ‘become anxious and it’s affecting his breathing’. There are also concerns the push towards online banking is leaving older people, many of whom are nervous about the internet, exposed.
Simon Hewett-Avison, director of services at Independent Age, says: ‘Closing bank branches is piling anxiety onto older people. Many depend on local branches to access support. We’re concerned branch closures may mean older people turn to someone untrustworthy.’
- Have you fallen victim to a scam? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Half of victims hang up on Action Fraud amid long call wait times
Almost half of scam victims who try to call Action Fraud hang up amid huge waiting times, the Mail can reveal.
Hundreds of often vulnerable people now abandon attempts to get through to the reporting centre for fraud and cyber-crime every day.
And call wait-times to the service hit over 20 minutes in some months. This is four times longer than Action Fraud’s target of five minutes.
It’s prompted concerns that allowing call handlers to work from home has led to a ‘collapse in productivity’.
An Action Fraud official recently admitted the service has been struggling for a ‘significant amount of time’ and things had got worse.
Scam victims are told to contact Action Fraud and file a report either by phone or online. Case details are then sent to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), which decides if they should be passed to the police.
Yet from February to April, 44.2 per cent of callers abandoned attempts to get through.
Call waiting times also exceeded 20 minutes in February and were still over 17 minutes in April.
Concerns surrounding delays were raised at the Economic and Cyber Crime Committee of the City of London Police Authority Board in May.
Chris Bell, the service delivery director for Action Fraud, agreed the service was ‘significantly missing their targets’ but said it was ‘linked to the number of resources in the call centre’.
He told the hearing that while they had ‘unfortunately got worse’, in part because of an increase in calls and delays vetting new recruits, there were plans to improve the system by increasing the salary and conditions of call handlers.
But he adds: ‘We know a lot of this we will have to work through until we get the next generation of the service. We are doing all we can to improve things overall, but not a great performance.’
Mr Bell later told the Mail the service had not seen a drop in reports despite the wait-times and abandoned calls. Some calls, he said, are from victims unable to get through first time.
Stefano Ruis, partner at law firm Hickman & Rose, says: ‘That a fraud victim — likely to be confused and worried — has to wait on the phone for over 15 minutes before they can talk to someone is shameful.’
The Mail’s ‘Stop the Scammers’ campaign is calling for faster improvements to Action Fraud.