In the West Midlands area there have been 25,692 reports of cyber fraud with losses of 94.9 million pounds in the last 13 months, according to statistics from the NFIB Fraud and Cyber Crime Dashboard.

Of these reports, 6360 of the victims were over 60, although actual numbers may be higher due to many cybercrimes going unreported.

Only 5% of online fraud that is committed is reported by the elderly. This is due to factors such as embarrassment for falling for these scams or due to being unaware that they have been scammed.

Age UK estimates that every 40 seconds an older person becomes a victim of a scam.

Of these crimes, the most reported in this age group are advance fee scams.

Cyber Community Service Cartoon

What are advance fee scams?

Advance fee scams can take many different forms, however, all have a similar formulaic approach.

At its core, the scammers will request an advance fee (which they’ll often claim to be refundable), to receive something, whether that be an item, money, or a service. A lot of these scams use phishing emails to lure in their victims. 

Variations of this scam include, but are in no way limited to:

The inheritance scam:

A long-lost relative has passed away and you must pay a fee to access your large inheritance.

The prize winner scam:

You’ve won an expensive prize and just have to pay a fee before receiving it.

Service provider scam:

Scammers contact you claiming to be one of your service providers, which could be anything from a bank to a Netflix account, requesting a one-time fee to secure or continue using the service.

This isn’t even close to how many variants of this type of scam exist; scammers have even gone as far as to impersonate police.

They’ll likely urge you to pay using an untraceable currency such as bitcoin or through gift cards (which can be exchanged for cash).

It’s always important to research who it is you’re sending money to and why. Things such as cross-referencing email addresses and simple google searches can easily prevent you from being scammed.

But why are the elderly generation getting scammed so much?

Firstly, they haven’t grown up with technology, they aren’t always aware of company policies or how easy it can be to fake information.

Scammers are aware of this and will try to use this to their advantage. While some scams may seem obvious to us, people new to technology might not know any better.

Isolation can also be a key factor. If the target is isolated, they are likely to be more receptive to the scams, especially if there is no one nearby to alert them of the reg flags.

A lot of scammers will give the victim a contact number and then urge the victim to stay on the phone, even if they’re going to the store to buy gift cards for the scammer.

Elderly woman sat with folded arms on her sofa

This is to avoid the victim discussing the situation with someone else, or to take time to reflect on whether they’re being scammed.

While on the phone, the victim will repeatedly be urged to give the scammers money, and in some cases, they will receive threats. There are also scammers who will try to befriend the victim, playing on their loneliness  to get more money from them.

Scammers have been known to go under a fake name and profile and convince the victim they are in a relationship. This is known as a romance scam and can be used to gain the victims trust to steal both money and personal information. Elderly people are targeted because of their isolation. 

So what’s next?

Basic cyber security initiatives aimed at the older generation can reduce the number of people affected by fraudsters.

Something as small as being a point of contact if someone is unsure as to whether they’re being scammed could save thousands of pounds.

For more information on what IASME and UKCSF are doing to help the elderly protect themselves better online, check out the UKCSF website.

     – Tilly Williams

Elderly man on phone and laptop