Annabelle Vaughan on the fight against scams
As a partner and head of Court of Protection and Wills, Trust and Probate at Coffin Mew, I often work on behalf of the people most vulnerable to scams and fraud. My work in this area has led me to pursue another qualification: I have become a Friends Against Scams SCAMchampion.
In an increasingly digital world, there are many different kinds of scams and the criminals behind them can target clients through post, telephone calls, texts and emails.
Over 53% of people aged 65+ have been targeted by scams. Whilst support is available, research by Age UK indicates that around two fifths of older people never report the crime. This happens for a variety of reasons, such as perceived shame associated with being hoodwinked by a scammer or, sadly, loneliness. The people who are most at risk of being affected by a scam are those who are socially isolated. People who get little human contact and look forward to receiving post or phone calls are often targeted by scammers.
Spotting a scam is often easy to the trained eye, but to people that are older, vulnerable or lonely, it’s not that simple. Legal professionals acting for clients who are at risk should assure them that they have nothing to feel ashamed about if they are affected. Clients will feel more comfortable coming forward if an appropriate level of trust and a good dialogue have been established.
Clients should be made aware of the prevalence of scams and the different types to look out for. A rule of thumb is that if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Clients should learn to be suspicious of any company that contacts them out of the blue, especially if they ask for any personal details.
Email scams are extremely common. It’s really important to check the validity of a source. For example, an email that is styled as coming from “HMRC” may have an email address that does not fit – it could be something completely different or have an unofficial domain like email@example.com. Clients should be advised to never click on a link or open an attachment in an email that they suspect to be fraudulent.
Telephone scams are also very common. Again, clients should be warned to never give out their passwords or any personal information. Remind them that they are in control and that they are free to end the call and contact the company allegedly contacting them on its official number.
Warning signs may indicate that a client is at risk. If a client appears to neglect themselves or their home, this should ring alarm bells. If a client’s home is filled with ‘cheap’ products – especially things that they do not need – this is a sign that they may have fallen victim to scammers.
If a client has an uncharacteristic reticence to engage with professional advisors, this could also indicate that they are at risk or have already been targeted. A major barrier to overcome is that victims often perceive that they benefit from the relationship with the person or company that is scamming them. Victims may even invite scammers, or unscrupulous salespeople, back into their home time and time again.
Legal professionals that believe a client is being targeted can discuss practical means of protection with them, including putting arrangements in place such as the professional opening the client’s mail. These measures can be incredibly helpful, especially for clients that have already been victims to scammers.
As loneliness and vulnerability, as well as age and mental capacity, are key factors that determine how likely a person is to fall victim to a scam, it is important to ensure that clients know where they can go for help. Legal professionals should be aware of any local support groups and charities for elderly, lonely, vulnerable and disabled people. Clients should be made aware of Action Fraud and told to contact the police immediately if they think that they have been scammed.
Attending a Friends Against Scams awareness session held by a SCAMchampion such as myself is a great first step for anyone that wants to join the fight against scams. To become a SCAMchampion, professionals can complete the initial awareness session and register online. More details can be found at https://www.friendsagainstscams.org.uk/.
 Action Fraud (2015) Over half of people over 65 have been targeted by fraudsters say Age UK [online] Available at: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/over-half-of-people-over-65-have-been-targeted-by-fraudsters-say-age-uk-apr15 [Accessed 28 June 2018]
 Age UK (2018) Age UK & Action Fraud to combat scams targeting older Londoners [online] Available at: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/articles/february18/age-uk–action-fraud-to-combat-scams-targeting-older-londoners/ [Accessed 28 June 2018]