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Most vulnerable in society are more at risk of falling victim to fraudsters

Research carried out by Action Fraud and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau reveals those suffering from a mental health issue, an impairment of intelligence and social functioning or with a physical disability are more susceptible to certain fraud types.

  • Research by Action Fraud finds that vulnerable in society are most susceptible to fraud.
  • For most vulnerable victims, the experience has an emotional as well as financial impact.
  • It is thought that fraud amongst vulnerable people is vastly under-reported. 

The fraud types include dating fraud, advance fee fraud, abuse of trust and doorstep fraud. People aged 60 and over are also more likely to fall victim and loneliness can also make people more vulnerable to fraud. Action Fraud is working closely with its partners to understand the threat to vulnerable people and is urging people to spot the signs of scams to protect themselves.

Dating fraud

Those with medical issues may be more likely to be a victim of dating fraud as a medical issue may push them to use the internet to make friends, rather than in person. The deception of dating fraud in all cases can lead to trauma, embarrassment, or the alienation of friends and family. 

Fraudsters also target older people who are often lonely and want friendship or a caring relationship as criminals think older people can be exploited. Those aged 60 to 69 are three times more likely to be a victim of dating fraud than the 70 to 79 age range, and women are almost twice as likely to be victims as men. 

Advance fee fraud

“My aunt who is registered blind and 85 has been getting phone calls from who she thinks is the Inland Revenue. They are telling her she is under investigation, and they could take her house and all her assets. She is now not sleeping or eating, it is making her very ill. We have tried to explain it is a scam but she is convinced its true "as they know my name and address" – sic.

Receiving unexpected phone calls, emails and unsolicited letters without anyone to speak with immediately can make it difficult to make an informed decision on what to do. People who live alone with little support, friendship or someone to turn to, could find themselves more easily bullied or manipulated into making payments to fraudsters. Those who are recently bereaved are particularly vulnerable to being influenced into making a payment. 

Advance fee fraud affected those with medical issues more than any other fraud category. Bogus cold callers often impersonate government agencies such as HMRC to falsely threaten their victims with court action, or arrest unless they pay money or buy vouchers. Having a medical issue can mean a person is more likely to be less mobile and at home during the day where they may receive more calls. People on their own can also be frightened and manipulated into paying bogus demands. 

Older people who are alone are more vulnerable to scams involving the impersonation of police or bank officials. Of a data sample of 2,926 reports, between 1 October 2017 and 31 March 2018, 887 vulnerable victims aged 60 and over reported falling victim to an advance fee fraud. Also known as courier fraud, the suspect tells the victim they are a police officer and that their bank employees are corrupt. They then encourage the victim to make a large withdrawal and hand the funds over or transfer money to an account under the fraudsters’ control. One 83 year-old victim reported making a total of 79 payments to the suspect.

Abuse of trust

A number of victims mention an abusive relationship with another known adult, including family members, partners and ex-partners, friends and carers. Over 15% of victims in this data sample reported being in an abusive relationship and knowing the person responsible for the fraud. Victims can often be reluctant to report because of fear of abuse from the suspect.

In many cases, the victim’s details are used by people they know to secure credit without them knowing. Victims also reported ex-partners claiming benefits in their name as well as cases where the suspect has taken control of assets and bank accounts. Almost a third of fraud reports highlighting an ‘abuse of trust’ were made for, or by victims with impaired or failing cognitive functions.  

Doorstep fraud

“A male knocked on her door late morning and that when she opened the door, he said “DO YOU REMEMBER ME?”. She stated that she informed him that he had come to wrong house but that he insisted he had done some work on the house and said “I’VE COME FOR MY PAYMENT” – sic.

Those with failing cognitive ability were found to be more at risk of falling victim to doorstep traders, who demand payment for non-existent services. Fraudsters will often try to convince a vulnerable person that they have had work done, or into accepting substandard maintenance.  

Director of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith, said:

“We work tirelessly to understand the threat from these frauds in order to stop this from happening in the future. 

“Fraudsters are cruelly targeting the most vulnerable people in our society to make them part with their cash and personal details. 

“It is vital that you are aware of these frauds and how to spot them and if you think you, or a friend or family member, has been a victim, report it to Action Fraud.”

How can people protect themselves?

Dating Fraud 

  • Never respond to any requests to send money, or have money transferred into your account by someone you don’t know or trust. These types of requests should always raise a red flag.
  • Avoid sharing too many personal details when using dating websites. Revealing your full name, date of birth, or full home address may lead to your identity being stolen. Always pick a reputable dating website or app and use the built-in messaging service. 

Advanced fee Fraud

  • Don’t assume an email, phone call or letter is authentic. Just because someone knows your basic details (such as your name and contact details), it doesn’t mean they are genuine. 
  • Never respond to messages or calls that ask for your personal or financial details.

Abuse of trust 

  • Make sure you have complete confidence in anyone you entrust with your finances.
  • If you notice any unauthorised transactions on your bank account or credit file, notify your bank or card company.

Unsolicited visits from a door-to-door salesperson

  • Don’t immediately agree to any offer that involves an advance payment or having to sign a contract on the spot. Always speak with a friend or family member first.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, report it to Action Fraud online or by calling 0300 123 2040

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