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Lewisham Safeguarding Adults Board

Scamming and its effect on vulnerable individuals

Scamming and its effect on vulnerable individuals

A backbench business debate was held 08 September 2016 on scamming and its effect on vulnerable individuals. The briefing paper explores the different types of scams, regulation and what can be done to combat this threat.

The aim of the briefing paper is to set out why people can be vulnerable to scams, what they can do to protect themselves and what action is being taken by the government and the regulators.

The annual cost of fraud against individuals – including mass marketing fraud and identity fraud – has been estimated at some £9.7 billion. Research conducted in April 2015 by Age UK suggested that 53 per cent of people aged 65+ believed they have been targeted by fraudsters.

Financial investment and fraud

Scams come in many forms, and through different channels, but scams involving false investment opportunities are one of the commonest and some of the most devastating when they involve the life savings of elderly individuals.

The main regulator is the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) which has, a statutory objective of “Securing an appropriate degree of protection for consumers”.

It seeks to do this in many ways; through consumer information/education programmes such as the ScamSmart scheme and the active investigation and prosecution of suspect activity.

In 2015, the FCA received over 8,500 reports about potential unauthorised activity and sent eight people to jail for a total of 32 years, froze over £2.7 million of assets and returned nearly £1.9 million to victims.

Pensions

Changes in the law in April 2015 gave people aged 55 and over more flexibility over when and how to draw their defined contribution pension savings. The Government said it recognised that people would need help navigating the expanded range of options and therefore introduced a guidance service Pension Wise. Nonetheless, concerns have been raised about whether the increase in flexibility might make people more vulnerable to scams. In its report on pension freedom guidance and advice the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that the Government urgently redouble its publicity efforts around pension scams.” In its response in December 2015, the Government explained that it worked with the National Crime Agency, regulators and the industry to tackle scams and understand emerging threats. Its anti-scam strategy was also focussed on “improving consumer awareness, to prevent people falling victim to scams in the first place.” It would also work with other bodies to consider how to ensure “reported data on pension scams is clearer, and how best to drive forward this agenda, ensuring that there is an ongoing focus on the pension freedoms in 2016.”

Consumer scams

There are many different types of consumer scams. Scams can operate by post, phone call, text message or email, or even from an unsolicited visit to the person’s home.

Advances in technology have enabled scammers to become increasingly sophisticated in their methods. For example, some websites or phone numbers can look like official government sites, with the result that people pay for services that they could get cheaper or for free if they used the official government service (for instance, renewing a passport or driving licence). Phishing emails and texts try to trick the consumer into giving out their personal bank details.

Although anyone can fall for a scam, vulnerable people (such as the elderly and those with mental health problems, learning difficulties or dementia) are especially susceptible and are more likely to be targeted. All scams should be reported to Trading Standards (via Citizens Advice online portal) and to Action Fraud.

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