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New research reveals the scale of older people falling victim to online scams

A quarter of all 45-70 year olds know or care for an older person who has been a target for an online scam

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Hourglass and Hodge commissioned a survey of 2,000 adults aged between 45 and 70, as they are often those who care for older people or are at risk of abuse themselves. Over a quarter (27%) know or care for an older person who has been a target of an online scam to access their finances in the last year and around 14% know or care for an older person who has been a victim of economic abuse by a person they should be able to trust.

Economic abuse is one of the most widespread forms of abuse of older people. Between 2017 and 2019, 39% of all calls to Hourglass’s helpline were about economic abuse and in 2020, at least £13 million was reported as stolen, defrauded, or coerced from older victims. The charity believes this is only the tip of the iceberg as so many instances of this abuse go unreported.

Geoffrey’s mother was financially abused online by a family member after her husband died and he tells the story of the heartbreak financial abuse can cause:

“She paid all the bills. She was very kind and generous. For the 10 years she was with them she was happy…”

It wasn’t until Geoffery’s mother died that he discovered the abuse.

“They just fleeced her of all her finances. As she was lying dying in the next room they were on their computer or phone transferring the money across. It’s hard to think somebody would do that.”

Lack of digital literacy amongst older people leading to economic abuse

As more aspects of our lives go digital only, older people without the right skills, support and access are being left open to exploitation. Nearly 9 in 10 (86%) survey respondents agree that some older people are more vulnerable to economic abuse because they don’t have the skills and knowledge to manage their finances online and keep safe.

The survey also highlighted people’s concerns about older people becoming digitally excluded with nearly 70% of respondents worrying about the closure of physical bank branches.

Online scamming and economic abuse only set to increase

The pandemic has accelerated the digital divide and has left some older people more at risk from economic abuse. 83% of respondents agree that as more and more of our finances move online, more and more older people are going to be at risk.

Richard Robinson, CEO of Hourglass, says:

“Economic abuse is where someone in a position of trust interferes in an older person’s ability to acquire, use or maintain their finances. With the increasing digitisation of our finances, many older people are finding themselves without the skills and support to manage their money and at greater risk of this type of abuse.

“Some of the calls we get are heartbreaking. We are hearing reports of people losing their homes and savings as a result of this abuse. Ahead of International Day for Older Persons, we’re working with Hodge to raise awareness of this often under reported issue and to try to do something to reduce the risks for older people.”

Financial service providers need to do more

Those who care for older people think financial service providers need to do more to protect older customers. 94% think it’s the responsibility of financial service providers to do more to help keep older people safe.

In response to this, Hourglass and Hodge have teamed up to launch the Safer Ageing Online Initiative to raise awareness of the issue and help older people, and those who care for them, keep their finances safer online.

As part of the initiative, tools and advice will be produced to help older people and brokers navigate the online world in a safer way.

Speaking about the research, David Landen, CEO of Hodge, is calling for more banks to join them in tackling economic abuse online:

“This research really brings home why it is so important we wake up as an industry and do more to address one of the most prevalent forms of abuse towards older people, economic abuse. As more aspects of our lives go digital only, older people without the right skills, support and access are increasingly being left open to exploitation.

“As a digital first organisation and a financial services provider for older people, we have a great platform and a responsibility to increase awareness and take action on this specific aspect of the economic abuse of older people. Brokers also have a duty to look out for signs of financial abuse and we will be providing them with essential information online to help them identify possible cases. We’re delighted to be working with Hourglass and to be taking our first steps in understanding and tackling economic abuse”.