The National Care Line
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Protect Yourself From Scams

What is a scam?

Scams are ways of conning people to part with their cash. According to guidance issued by the Office of Fair Trading the common ones to look out for are:-

  • Letters predicting the future - the sting is that to find out what this wonderful prediction is, you first have to pay them
  • Bogus foreign lotteries - the sting here is that you have to send them some money to make your claim, but you get nothing in return
  • Foreign money offers and advance-fee scams - the operators of this scam will offer you huge sums of money in return for helping to get money out of a foreign country and will want your bank details or you to send them some money, the only account that could be raided will be yours if you give them your details.
  • Golden investment opportunities - golden investment opportunities such as wonderful deals on fine wine, gemstones or shares can often turn out to be over-priced, very high risk and difficult to sell on. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is just that.
  • Miracle health cures - the people who con people in this way are preying on people who often live their lives in constant pain from chronic conditions such as arthritis and for whom, a 'cure' would be the most wonderful thing. Unfortunately there isn't one yet but this doesn't stop these scammers from trying to extract your cash from you anyway.
  • Fake sweepstake and prize draw wins - these scammers tell you that you have won a large sum of money or a valuable prize but you have to send a fee, order goods from a catalogue or ring a premium-rate 090 number to claim your prize. Often you get nothing at all in return or, if you do it will be a very cheap prize, so keep your money in your pocket and go and buy yourself something nice when you want to buy it instead of paying out good money to receive nothing but cheap second rate tat.

The cons above have several things in common, they are fake, they prey anyone - but the elderly and those who are vulnerable are more likely to be targeted, - and they are out to part you from your cash. But there is something more insidious about them as the above scams were just the start of the process for the people who become their victims because replying to just one scam can get you added to a 'suckers list'.

Suckers list

This is a list of the people who have replied to a scam and have shown themselves to be receptive. Receptive people can also be lonely and isolated or may be suffering from dementia or some other mental capacity, and it is likely that none of them will have seen the danger either because they are over-trusting or because they don't have the capacity to do so. Once they are on the 'suckers list' this give the scammers the green light to then target these people with more mailings and phone calls and victims can eventually be quite literally be hounded  out of their life savings, health and peace of mind.

Be alert

IIf you are vigilant and look for the signs you can help to stop people being scammed. The Office of Fair trading has published a list of warning signs and if you are caring for someone or visiting elderly relatives, keep your eyes open for any of these clues:-

  • Are they receiving a lot of junk mail?
  • Is their house full of cheap-looking goods such as jewellery and health products?
  • Receive frequent calls from strangers?
  • Have they become secretive when discussing finances with their family or friends?

Ways to protect yourself

Scammers are clever, unscrupulous people and anyone can become a victim unless they take steps to protect themselves from becoming a victim. According to the Office of Fair Trading these rules are:-

  • Speak to a relative, friend, neighbour or your carer before sending any money, NEVER reply straight away to an offer. If it is any good and it is legitimate, it will stand up to the scrutiny of others, if not, you are better off without it.
  • NEVER trust anyone who says you've won the lottery or a big prize - they will always want you to send them a fee or order something, and you'll never see your promised winnings.
  • NEVER give your bank account details or other personal information to people you don't know
  • Don't be frightened into sending off money to so-called psychics. They send identical letters to thousands of other people to con them too. Don't be their latest victim.
  • Don't ring a premium-rate 090 number to claim a prize unless you know how much the call will cost and what you are likely to receive.
  • Suggest that the person asks Royal Mail to re-direct their post to a relative or friend, and signs up to the free Mailing Preference Service to reduce the amount of unsolicited mail they receive. The telephone number of the Mailing Preference Service is 0845 703 4599.
  • They might also need to change their telephone number to prevent further scam calls.

Free information

The Office of Fair Trading has produced a booklet entitled 'Can you stop the person you care for from being scammed, 'Don't let them con you' posters and bookmarks containing a reminder of the key messages on how to protect yourself. The bookmarks are intended for giving to a person you care for or your elderly friends and relatives to help increase their awareness of scams and information on how to protect themselves. You can order supplies of any of the items by phoning 0800 389 3158.

Finally, what to do if you discover a scam

Anyone who suspects that someone is the victim of a scam, or  an attempted scam or they have been the victim of a scam themselves, can contact Advice Guide for clear, practical advice. Visit their website at https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/