We all worry about being a victim of a scam or fraud. Unfortunately there are people out there who prey on unsuspecting people, and in some cases, seniors are specifically targeted. If you’re concerned about a scammer getting the better of you, maybe it’s time to learn about different types of scams and how to avoid them.
In this article we will cover postal scams, cold calling and phone scams, online and social media scams, doorstep scams, and pension scams. We will also provide some printable information to leave by the phone and computer to help you to protect yourself from being scammed.
Let’s look at some common types of postal scams and what to do if you believe someone is attempting to target you with a postal scam.
Lotteries and prize draws
If you receive a letter stating that you’ve won a cash prize, this could be a scam. The letter may congratulate you and ask you to call a premium rate number or pay a fee in order to claim your prize.
What to do if you receive an unexpected lottery or prize draw letter:
Ignore these letters, no matter how genuine they might look. If you have genuinely won a prize, you won’t be asked to pay a fee to collect your winnings. This can be a key indicator of a scam.
Psychics and clairvoyants
If you receive a letter from a psychic or clairvoyant, claiming to see something in your future and requesting money in exchange for more information, this is a scam.
What to do if you receive an unexpected letter from a psychic or clairvoyant:
Do not respond to this kind of letter, even if it appears you have been specially chosen by this individual. These scammers send this kind of letter to large quantities of people.
Pyramid schemes can come in the form of investment schemes and chain letters that offer low-risk profit. These letters may encourage you to ask others to join the venture or tell you to send money to the person or organisation that has contacted you in order to receive your return on investment.
What to do if you receive an unexpected pyramid scheme letter:
Avoid these schemes and do not join them. Pyramid schemes often offer overpriced assets that hold little or no real value. If you receive a threatening letter that intends to scare you into replying, ignore them as it is often one last desperate attempt from the scammer to get you involved.
Hard luck stories
These scams usually take the form of a scammer who claims to have lost all of their money under unfortunate circumstances. Another common example of a hard-luck-story scam is a letter from an individual claiming that they need to pay for an urgent operation for which they need help with payment.
What to do if you receive an unexpected hard-luck-story letter:
Don’t believe these stories and the fraudsters behind them. They are lies and you shouldn’t entertain them as it could encourage this individual. It’s best to ignore this kind of letter entirely.
If you get a letter addressed to you telling you that someone has left you money in their will, it is likely a scam. These letters will often use the identity of a real law firm with contact details, postal address, even a website that looks genuine.
What to do if you receive an unexpected letter about unclaimed inheritance:
If you’re in doubt, contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority to check if this firm and their reasons for reaching out to you are authentic. Their website will often post information about similar scams on their website.
Advance fee fraud
If someone asks you to transfer money out of another country in exchange for a significant reward, it may be a scam. The letter may appear to be from a lawyer or government official. Bad grammar and misspellings can be an indication that this is a scam letter.
What to do if you receive an unexpected letter:
Ignore this letter and never share your personal or bank details with someone you don’t trust.
Tips for avoiding postal scams
- Have your name taken off direct mailing lists in the UK by contacting the Mailing Preference Service.
- Place a ‘no junk mail’ sign somewhere on or beside your door. Make the sign yourself, buy it online or check your local pound shop as they sometimes stock these signs.
- If you receive a letter that you believe to be a scam, throw it away. If you like, you can join the Scam Marshal scheme. You can send them your scam mail which could help them catch scammers and prevent innocent people from becoming victims of fraud.
- Always check to see if a company, organisation, firm or legal professional is legitimate by checking their credentials.
Phone scams and cold calling
Criminals have been using phone scams to con people for years. The first step to avoiding becoming victimised by a phone scam is being informed. But how can you identify a phone or “cold call scam”? Let’s have a look...
Types of phone scams
You might be wondering about types of phone scams. Here are some common types of phone scams to look out for.
A cold call will generally come from a company that you have never interacted with that is trying to sell you something over the phone. A cold call isn’t necessarily a scam. Sometimes companies will genuinely call at random to try to sell a product or service. Cold calls aren’t illegal but they can be a nuisance. If you would like to minimise the number of cold calls you receive, you can register for free with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
Computer repair scams
Sometimes scammers call pretending to be someone from the helpdesk of an established IT firm. They will say that your computer has a virus and that you must download an ‘antivirus’ software’. This software can often turn out to be spyware which is then used by the scammer to get a hold of your personal details.
This type of scam call is usually from a company enquiring about a car accident you’ve had. They will claim that you may be entitled to some form of compensation. These could be genuine companies cold calling in search of new customers but you should be wary of this type of call to avoid putting yourself in a vulnerable position. If you have had an accident and would like to find out about making a claim, contact your own insurance company on their official phone number.
In this instance, a scammer will call pretending to be a representative or employee of your bank. They will often tell you that there is something wrong with your account or your card. The caller will sound genuine and professional. They may try to convince you that your money is at risk due to something like your card being cloned or copied.
The caller may request your account or card details including your PIN. They may even offer to send a courier to collect your card or advise that you transfer your money to a different account in order to protect it. As a general rule, a bank will never ask you to do this making this behavior a key indication of a scam.*
If like most people these days, you have a caller ID display on your phone, you could be susceptible to number spoofing. Scammers now have the ability to mimic an official phone number. This means they can call you from their number and it will appear on your phone under the name of a legitimate company such as a utility provider, a bank or another well-known organisation.
If you’re concerned that it could be the legitimate company attempting to contact you, hang up and call the organisation directly on an official number they have provided.
If you receive a phone call from HMRC stating that there is a problem with your tax refund or an unpaid tax bill, then it is likely a scam. HMRC would never contact you about an issue like this by phone and they would never request that you reveal personal financial information.
Pension and investment scams
This is usually a call regarding an investment opportunity that is ‘not to be missed’. The caller could also offer you a chance to access your pension pot earlier. Do not engage with the caller. Politely decline and hang up.
If you receive a cold call regarding your pension, you can now report it to the Commissioner's Office on 0303 123 1113 because these kinds of calls are now illegal.
What to do if you answer a scam call
Since older people can find themselves being targeted by scammers, it’s important to not only be aware of phone scams but know how to handle them. Here’s what to do if you answer a scam call.
Never reveal personal details
Never reveal personal details i.e. financial information (bank account details, PIN) by phone, even if the caller says they are a representative from your bank.
End the call by hanging up
If you feel like you’re being intimidated or harassed by the caller, or if they talk over you and don’t allow you a chance to speak, hang up and end the call. Don’t worry about being rude, protecting yourself is a priority.
Contact the real organisation to check authenticity
Ring the organisation if you’re not sure if the call is legitimate. If it’s a genuine call, you should be able to contact the organisation through a telephone number that they have provided. Find this number yourself and do not use the number provided by the caller.
Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into providing information
Don’t let the caller rush you. They may pressure you into quickly providing personal details by saying that their offer is only available for a limited time or by creating a sense that you are at risk if you fail to act quickly.
We’ve created this handy printable guide so you know what to do if you answer a scam call.
Download Our Phone Scams Checklist
Online and social media scams
The internet is a brilliant way to learn new things, shop, read, stay in touch with friends and entertain ourselves. The downside is, it’s so vast that there are millions of scammers out there trying to weasel their way in through emails, social media, phishing scams and so on. Once you’re aware of the types of online scams, you can be extra vigilant when using your favourite social networking platform, shopping online and browsing the internet.
Since there are so many types of online fraud, we’re going to touch on some very common ones. If you have a few minutes to spare, it’s a good idea to read through this extensive list of online frauds from Action Fraud the National Fraud & Cyber Crime Centre. Alternatively, you can read our article on staying safe while shopping online.
Business opportunity fraud
Business opportunity fraud can be targeted at seniors who are looking to make some extra cash during retirement. It generally offers an opportunity to become financially independent or generate extra income. This offer can come in the form of a letter, an advert or a website that asks if you would like to find out how to make easy money working for yourself, at home, with your own online business.
The problem with this is that the items or services you’re selling are usually worthless. You probably won’t be able to sell them leaving you out of pocket due to the fees you’ve paid to register, set up the website, generate customer leads, buy the products, the instructions on how to run the business and so on. If the job requires manual labour of some description, they could try to say that there is a fault in the work you’ve done and they will refuse to pay you. Many of these schemes are typical pyramid schemes and the only way you can earn money is by getting others to sign up and do as you did. Avoid these kinds of offers as if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Identity fraud and identity theft
Identity fraud and identity theft can happen when a fraudster gathers enough information about your identity (age, DOB, current or previous addresses). They can then use this information to commit identity fraud. If you are a victim of identity theft, it could result in a fraud, which can have an impact on your finances. It may make it difficult for you to obtain loans, credit cards or mortgages until you’ve resolved the issue and cleared your name.
Limit the amount of personal information that you share online or on social media and always password protect your accounts with a strong password that would make it difficult for someone to guess. Action Fraud describes the consequences of this kind of fraud and how to avoid it in-depth on their website.
Romance scams or romance fraud happens when you meet someone online with hopes for a budding romance but this person isn’t who they say they are. They will get to know you and once you trust them, they will ask for money or use information you’ve shared against you.
If you’re using an online dating site or you’ve met someone through social media, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s very easy to pretend to be someone else online. Scammers have been known to use fake names and pictures to trick people into beginning a relationship with them.
A scammer could use information they get from you to manipulate you, they may even request intimate information which can then be used to blackmail you. Read more about romance scams here.
Here are some general tips for staying safe online:
- Limit the personal information you share online.
- Remember that financial institutions such as your bank, will not reach out online and ask for personal information.
- Don’t let your guard down when browsing the internet. Sometimes scammers will try to entice you to visit a harmful website with ‘too-good-to-be-true’ offers or with advertisements stating that you’ve won a prize.
- If you receive a message or email stating that you’ve won a competition that you didn’t enter, do not respond. Likewise, if you receive emails or messages from strangers looking for money for any reason avoid it.
- Be wary of fake social media accounts. While this can prove to be challenging, there are lots of ways to help spot a fake social media account.
- Never provide your card details or make a payment to a website that doesn’t have an SSL Certificate, this is indicated by a padlock symbol in the search bar. This symbol indicates that it is safe to make a card payment on this site. The image below shows an example of a website with an SSL Certificate.
Older people can sometimes find themselves targeted by doorstep scammers. These fraudsters can be very persuasive, you might even feel intimidated. These kinds of scammers can also be friendly and mannerly, using their charm to manipulate you.
The aim of a doorstep scammer is to make you give them access to your home or to try to scam you out of money. If an unexpected visitor turns up at your door, be wary of their motives.
Examples of doorstep scams include:
Rogue traders knocking on your door to offer you a service. They may say that there is something that needs work such as an issue with a gutter or roof tiles.
Fake charity representatives will likely ask you to donate something such as money, household items, food or goods. You can check if a charity is legitimate with the Charity Commission website.
Bogus official representatives may claim to be from the company providing a utility such as electricity or internet. This is an attempt to enter your home. Always ask for proof of identity. A genuine official will happily provide their ID.
Hard-luck-stories don’t just come in the form of letters, you may have someone call to your door asking you to help them with money. They may also ask can they enter your home to use your telephone as they’re feeling unwell.
Fake consumer surveys are used to get your personal details or to convince you to purchase something you don’t really need.
How to help avoid doorstep scams
- Place a sign outside your window or door that reads ‘no cold callers’. This could put someone off coming to your door.
- Password protect your utilities. This can be done by contacting your utility provider. This password must then be used by any official from the company who comes to your house.
- Nominate a neighbour who can be contacted if you’re unsure or worried about a particular cold caller being a fraudster.
- Only let someone into your home if you’re expecting them. A family member, a friend, or a professional who has previously been in contact with you. You are entitled to turn someone away if you wish.
- Don’t allow someone to pressure you into making an agreement, signing a contract or handing over money.
- Always check credentials when possible. You can always phone the company they say they’re representing or check online. Do not use the contact details that the caller has provided. Go online or check a letter from the company for contact details.
- Never share your bank details or your PIN and never give someone your bank card.
- If you’re concerned, you feel uncomfortable or intimidated, don’t hesitate to call the police. They can be reached on the non-emergency number 101. Call this number if you want to report an incident. If you feel you are in immediate danger, always call 999.
Get our downloadable checklist on how to help avoid doorstep scams. Print it out and keep it by your front door.
Download Our Doorstep Scams Checklist
A pension scammer can persuade you to access your pension cash in exchange for an investment opportunity. They may also give you false information that seems convincing.
Here’s how to spot a pension scammer:
- They will contact you randomly by phone, email or text.
- They will offer you high return investments (usually overseas or a creative investment).
- They will claim to understand loopholes that will allow you to get more than the 25% tax-free amount.
- They will offer you a ‘saving advance’, a loan or ‘cashback’ from your pension pot.
- They will try to convince you to put all of your money into a single investment.
- They will say that they can help you access your pension before the age of 55 which isn’t legally possible unless you are seriously ill or have a scheme that allows this.
- They will pressure you into making a quick decision.
- They will provide paperwork for you to sign, delivered to your door by courier.
- Their contact details will consist of a mobile number and/or a PO box address.
Falling victim to a pension scam could mean you lose a large chunk of, even your entire pension savings. It’s important to be vigilant. Never sign anything or hand over personal details. Consult with a professional financial advisor if you ever wish to look into investment opportunities.
A phishing scam is when a scammer tries to obtain sensitive information such as your bank details, credit card details or passwords by pretending to be a trusted entity. An example of this is a fake email you receive from someone pretending to be your bank. This email might request that you send back personal details. This could also happen via text message or message on a social media website. For security reasons, genuine financial institutions will not request your personal details by email or text.
If you’re concerned that your bank may genuinely be trying to contact you via email or text, contact them first on a telephone number you have looked up yourself and never one provided in the text or email. It’s important to be vigilant and stay safe, particularly when shopping online.
Gov.co.uk provides a detailed guide to how to avoid and report phishing scams. It could be a good idea to read up on phishing scams in more detail if you use the internet regularly.
Be wary and you’ll have the upper hand
By being informed on these issues, you’ve already taken the first step in gaining the upper hand. With this information, you can make wiser choices. Whether it’s someone calling to your door, an email from a stranger or a suspicious phone call, you’re now equipped with the know-how to help protect yourself.
*Age UK, Scams and Fraud, Phone Scams