Scamwatch: elderly Britons under fire

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Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters with our series of articles giving you the lowdown on the scams they use to trick people out of their hard-earned cash - and how to avoid being taken in by them.

This week, we investigate the raft of scams used to trick vulnerable, elderly Britons out of their money.

How does it work?
Unscrupulous fraudsters think nothing of scamming elderly people out of their life savings. In fact, older people are among their favourite targets.

Shropshire Council public protection officer Debbie Cooper said: "Senior citizens are most likely to have a 'nest egg', to own their own home and have excellent credit – all of which make them attractive to con artists."

And according to Trading Standards, organised doorstepping and postal or telephone scams are the most common types of fraud used against older Britons.

In one recent case, an 81-year-old woman died penniless after being systematically conned out of £100,000 by criminals who initially persuaded her to send them money using postal lottery scams before plaguing her with high-pressure phone calls.

Elderly people in several parts of the country have also been defrauded after giving out personal details over the phone to a man purporting to be from the police, while others have given money to fake charity fundraisers who came to their doors.

How can I avoid being caught out?
When protecting yourself against fraud, the first rule is to be wary of anyone who asks you for money.

So say you receive a letter of a phone call claiming you have won a large cash prize that you need to pay an administration charge to claim, you can be sure there's something fishy going on.

In fact, Cooper recommends ignoring such requests altogether. "No genuine lottery or competition would ask for money to release a prize," she said.

"But unfortunately, once someone responds to a scam mailshot they're details are placed on a 'mug' list and they can end up inundated with scam mail."

The second rule is never to give out personal information - particularly your bank details - even if the caller or person writing to you claims to be from a trusted organisation such as your bank or the police.

Detective Inspector Andy Roberts of Dorset Police said: "The police will never ask for your bank details over the phone and will never ask you to withdraw or transfer money for them."

I've been defrauded. What should I do?
There is no shame in being taken in by fraudsters, many of whom are very convincing. But if you have been caught out - acting quickly can make all the difference.

If, for example, you have given your bank details to someone you suspect may be trying to defraud you, it is vital to inform your bank as soon as possible so that your accounts can be secured.

Your information could also help to lead to the arrest of the criminals behind the scam, which is why it is also important to report it to the police as soon as you can - either directly or via Action Fraud on 0300 123 20 40.

"Anyone who suspects their caller is ringing them fraudulently should put the phone down, wait for five minutes and check for a dial tone," Roberts said.

"Once the line is clear dial 1471, write the number down and then call the police immediately on 101."

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