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Fraudsters target over 70s with Covid scams

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Written by: Emma Lunn
04/02/2021
A study by National Trading Standards found a surge in the number of scam and nuisance calls as criminals aim to exploit unfamiliar processes associated with coronavirus, such as applying for swab tests and vaccines.

In a call blocker programme funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, National Trading Standards installed more than 1,000 free call blocker units in people’s homes.

The programme was designed to test their effectiveness at preventing nuisance calls, improving victims’ wellbeing and providing intelligence to support investigations against the perpetrators.

After six months, more than one in three (35%) of the 283,700 calls received by the units were found to be scam or nuisance calls. Nearly 99,000 scam and nuisance calls were blocked by the units – more than 99% of the scam and nuisance calls received.

The average age of people using the call blockers was 75. The number of nuisance and scam calls prevented suggests that people in this age range are three times more likely to be targeted by scam or nuisance calls.

On average, 23 scam and nuisance calls were prevented from reaching call blocker users every month. Meanwhile, the general population is thought to receive seven scam or nuisance calls per month.

Louise Baxter, head of the scams team at National Trading Standards, said: “This pilot clearly demonstrates that call blocking devices can eliminate the vast majority of scam and nuisance calls and protect victims from these crimes. Our report provides further evidence that people over the age of 70 are far more likely to be preyed on by nuisance callers – and that this can have a detrimental effect on their emotional and physical wellbeing.”

“Scam and nuisance calls can cause financial loss, emotional distress, social isolation, a loss of confidence and in some cases physical harm caused by poverty and stress. All regular landline users are likely to benefit from call blocker technology and we’re calling for devices to be made available to people in vulnerable situations to help safeguard them from fraud, scams and financial abuse.”

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: “The huge number of scam and nuisance calls during the coronavirus crisis highlights how callous fraudsters are exploiting fear and vulnerability for their own financial gain.

“Everyone should be wary of answering or returning unsolicited calls, especially if they are seeking to obtain personal or financial information from you, as scammers will try to take advantage of the current uncertainty by any means possible.”

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