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Tip of the iceberg – identifying older adults at risk of financial fraud

23rd October 2015

In the past week there has been a cascade of reports indicating that financial fraud is increasing , and that older people in particular are being targeted by financial fraudsters and scammers.

It is becoming increasingly recognised that financial scammers are targeting vulnerable older people, and a report by Victim Support suggests that one in three fraud victims is over the age of 65. However, this is probably the tip of the iceberg. A potential flaw in the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) is that it is partly based on how many people say they are a victim of crime. What we know about older victims of financial fraud and financial scams is that they are often reluctant to report such crime.

Factors which may increase older people’s susceptibility to involvement in financial scams are complex but may include lower levels of cognitive function, decreased psychological well-being, social isolation and lower levels of financial literacy. The notion of financial literacy is useful to develop understanding how individuals make decisions concerning their financial choices, including their awareness of financial scams, and their willingness to seek support from professionals if they are concerned about a potential financial scam.

It is becoming increasingly recognised that older people should be offered opportunities to improve their financial literacy so that they are in a better position to make wise and informed financial decisions. For example the Financial Conduct Authority (2014) has produced guidelines to support individuals to become ‘scamsmart’ .

Alongside this agencies need to work together in an integrated way to support victims and to encourage them to report financial crime and scams. Safeguarding older people at risk of financial crime can be a challenging area of practice as they are less likely to report their involvement in financial scams or to seek recourse. Some may refuse to accept that they have been a victim of crime, often continuing involvement with fraudsters despite professional intervention.

More research is required to understand the complex factors which not only increase susceptibility to financial scams involvement but also act to sustain involvement.

  • NCPP Bournemouth University
    Professor Lee-Ann Fenge
    Director of the Centre of Seldom Heard Voices, Marginalisation and Societal Integration / NCPQSWPP

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