What are scams?

Scams are crimes where the perpetrator tries to swindle the victim out of money, or out of personal information with a view to stealing their money later.
Scam is a slang term for personal fraud.  All scams are frauds.

“If someone you’ve never met before asks you for money, that should be a red flag.”

Frances Wilson, National Trading Standards Scams Team

It is estimated that around £10 billion is lost each year in the UK by victims of scams.
Age UK reports that 43% of older people – almost five million people aged 65 and over – believe they have been targeted by scammers. Those with dementia are at particular risk.
Scams can be committed over the phone, through the post, on the internet or face-to-face, often on the doorstep.
Because older people are more likely to live on their own, and are often lonely, they become targets for fraudsters. Age UK reports that in one study, it was found that 27% of single people responded to a scam, compared with less than a tenth of their married counterparts. In England, the number of people over 65 living on their own is expected to rise from 3.5 million in 2015 to just under five million by 2030, and the number of people with dementia is projected to rise from 850,000 now to 1.14 million by 2025.  This means that in future, significantly more older people could be at risk from being scammed.


Estimated sum lost each year to scams 10bn
People over 65 who have been targeted by scammers 5m
Proportion of scams that are ever reported 5%
For some people, their only form of social contact is with commercial organisations, legitimate or fraudulent.  They might receive telemarketing calls, emails or letters, or open the door to a scammer purporting to be a bona fide salesman or tradesman.  Sometimes strong relationships can develop between scammers and their elderly victims, if a high level of contact is maintained.  The average age of victims of mass-marketing postal fraud is 75.
And, once people realise they have been scammed, they often feel ashamed to have been duped and so will seldom report what has happened.  It is estimated that only 5% of these crimes are ever reported.
Once a person falls victim to one con artist, their personal details are often added to what is known as “suckers lists” and sold onto other criminals, so they are targeted again and again.
The impact can be devastating – people who have been defrauded in their own homes are two and a half times more likely to die or go into residential care within a year.


  2. Never respond to any emails, text messages, letters or social media that look suspicious, or that have bad spelling or grammar.
  3. Remember: A genuine bank will never contact you out of the blue asking for your PIN, full password or to move money to another account. If you receive a message like this, ignore it!
  4. If someone you have never met before asks you for money, that should be a red flag. Do not give them any money!
  5. Always question uninvited approaches, in case it’s a scam. This applies whether the contact is on the doorstep, over the phone, by post or online.  Instead, contact the company directly yourself using a known email or phone number.
  6. If you are even a tiny bit suspicious, check with someone else before responding to the communication – a trusted relative, friend or neighbour.
  7. Never automatically click on a link in an unexpected text or email.
  8. Make sure you use strong passwords on all your online accounts, and change them often.
  9. Always have anti-virus software and a firewall installed on your computer, and update all software as soon as new versions become available.
  10. Trust your instincts. If you feel at all wary or suspicious, you’re probably right!

Common scams that target older people

There are dozens of different types of scam, but older people are particularly at risk of certain types.  Click here to find out more about each one and how to avoid being taken in by it.

Protecting your community

Beating the scammers requires a community-wide effort.  There are several things you can do to help protect your neighbours from scams.  Click here to find out more.

You’ve been scammed! What happens now?

If you or someone you know does become a scam victim, there are several things you can do to support them and stop others falling foul of the same scam.  Click here to read how.


To help you spread the word about scams and how people can avoid falling victim to them, Neighbourhood Watch has compiled a range of free campaign materials that you can use to educate and inform people in your neighbourhood.
Click here to access the toolkit.

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