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This briefing paper is for the backbench business debate on 8 September 2016 on the following motion:


Julian Knight & Patricia Gibson

That this House believes that the elderly and vulnerable are a high-risk group from having harm done to their financial, emotional and psychological wellbeing from criminals who target them with scam calls, post and visits; praises the work that trading standards does to combat scams; calls on financial institutions and the communications industry to put in place mechanisms to protect potential victims from scams; further calls on the Government to recognise the threat from scams to victims’ ability to live independently; draws attention to the measures proposed by Bournemouth University, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and National Trading Standards Scams Team on financial harm as useful first steps in tackling such scams; and calls on the Government to make suggestions on further steps to tackle such criminality.

The aim of this 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 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.


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’ published in October 2015, 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. From time-to-time, Trading Standards teams have joined with Citizens Advice Bureaus to operate ‘Scam awareness’ campaigns.

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