MAY 2014 is Scams Awareness Month - and I am supporting the efforts of Age Cymru, Trading Standards and Citizens Advice in Wales, who are working together to raise awareness of the problem.
People fall victim to a huge range of scams, from rogue builders to fake lotteries to psychics – and I have heard about a number of distressing experiences from constituents who have been affected here in Penarth and across Cardiff. I have also heard about some deeply concerning cases through my work on the Consumer Rights Bill.
Figures from The Office of Fair Trading suggest people in the UK lose £3.5 billion a year to scammers – but that only around 5 per cent of scams are reported to the authorities.
Research by Age Cymru shows that more than 2,500 scams were reported to Trading Standards in Wales between February 2012 and February 2013 - but given the low reporting rates nationally, it’s clear this figure could be just the tip of the iceberg.
Although people of all ages can be affected, older people are particularly vulnerable, especially those who are lonely, or in failing physical or mental health. The criminals leading these scams are ruthless and have no concern for the impact of their deceptions. What’s more, older people who are scammed once are at higher risk of being scammed again.
The consequences can be devastating, with some losing their life-savings and even their home as a result. They can also become increasingly isolated, and alienated from family and friends.
Figures from the Alzheimer’s Society show that 15 per cent of carers reported that the person they care for had been the subject of some kind of financial scam; and 62 per cent said the person they care for had been approached by unsolicited or unscrupulous cold-callers or salespeople.
It’s important therefore that all of us are aware of these scams, and what can be done if we - or family members, friends, or neighbours – are approached through online contact, by telephone, by post or on the doorstep.
Age Cymru’s ‘Scams and Swindles’ campaign (www.agecymru.org.uk/scamsandswindles) is calling for greater protection to be provided for older people by the communication companies used by the criminals to facilitate their scams. They also want to see more ‘No Cold Calling Zones’ set up in Wales.
Their message is that older people should be able to live in dignity and security, free of this type of exploitation, and I fully agree.