Anyone can fall for a scam, but people living with dementia can be more at risk because they can find managing money and assessing risk harder. This can make them more vulnerable to scammers.
What do we mean by scams?
Scams are when criminals trick you into giving them access to your money. As well as losing you money, this can also leave you feeling scared and ashamed. Knowing the techniques scammers use can help you protect yourself and your money.
Scams take many forms. Scammers can convince you to buy something that doesn’t exist or spend money when you don’t need to. They can pretend to be your bank, the police, or another trusted organisation to try to get your personal information, bank details or move your money. This can be by phone, email, letter, text or social media.
Scammers can also pretend to be someone they’re not, such as pretending they’re there to do building work on your house, in order to be let into your home to steal from you. It may seem scary but there are ways to keep yourself safe.
Watch our video to hear from Tracey, who is living with dementia and was the target of a phone scam:
Four ways to avoid scams
1. Stay safe when buying online
It is increasingly common to purchase items online. This can be an efficient way of doing your shopping but we have heard of reports where people have purchased items that have then not arrived. There are some fraudulent sellers who set up fake online companies to steal money. It’s important to make sure you’re staying safe and avoiding these scams when shopping online.
Tip: Check you’re buying from a real company.
- You can search for a company's details on GOV.UK. This will tell you if they're a registered company or not. If you’re buying something on a site you haven't used before, spend a few minutes checking it – start by finding its terms and conditions. The company’s address should have a street name, not just a post office box.
- Check to see what people have said about the company. It’s worth looking for reviews on different websites such as Which? – don’t rely on reviews the company has put on its own website.
- Sign up to Which?’s free scam alert email service that gives anyone who signs up the information to know how to spot, avoid and report a scam as well as information about the latest scams.
- If you decide to go ahead with the purchase and the item costs more than £100, use a credit card if you have one, as you might have a legal claim for credit card purchases above that amount if things go wrong. If you have paid by debit card or paid a lower amount, talk to your bank anyway.
- Don’t rely on seeing a padlock in the address bar of your browser - this doesn’t guarantee you’re buying from a real company.
2. Learn how to spot a phishing scam
Scammers can send out emails that appear to be from a legitimate company, government department, utility provider, or financial service.
They attempt to trick you into clicking on a malicious link in the email then ask you to provide sensitive information such as personal and financial details. This is known as 'phishing'.
One common tactic used by scammers is to contact potential victims by email pretending to be from your bank or utility provider asking you to move money to another account, to make a payment or to provide personal or financial information.
Tip: Be careful where you click.
- If you get an email from a company with a strange email address or one that has never emailed you before asking you for money/payment unexpectedly, don’t click on links or download anything. Doing this could infect your computer with a virus. Make sure your antivirus software is up to date to give you more protection.
- If you’re not sure an email from a company is genuine, head to their website to find ways to contact them from there (using the telephone number or email address provided).
- If you receive an email which seems too good to be true or is trying to make you take urgent action, stop and think if it could be a scam. Ask someone you trust for a second opinion.
3. Stay safe from people at your door pretending to be someone they’re not
Scammers can also approach your house and pretend to be someone they’re not. This could be someone pretending they’re there to do building work on your house but really they want to be let into your home so they can steal from you.
Tip: Remember it's okay to keep the door closed to strangers.
- If you have an unexpected visitor at your door, always ask to see their ID.
- If someone claims to be from a recognised organisation, then don’t be afraid to ask to see proof or check with the organisation itself.
- If possible, call a friend or family member to let them know that someone has come to the house you don’t recognise and discuss why they have called.
- Don’t be afraid to shut the front door while you check they are who they say they are. If visitors are genuine, they will understand.
- Consider putting a ‘no cold callers’ sign on your front door. You may be able to get one from your local council. They are also available online.
4. Protect yourself on the phone
Scammers can also call you claiming to be someone they’re not. This is often your bank or utility provider, to try and get you to tell them your personal details, such as your PIN or password. You should never give personal information to someone you don’t know.
It’s important to keep yourself safe and know when you should just end the conversation. Don’t be afraid to hang up if you are unsure.
Tip: Contact your provider to ask how they might contact you.
- If you receive a letter, email, text or phone call you’re unsure about, which seems too good to be true, or needs urgent action, ask someone you trust for a second opinion.
- A real bank or organisation will never contact you out of the blue asking for your PIN, full password or to move money to another account. Check your bank or utility provider’s website or call them to see how they will and won’t communicate with you. For example, find out what type of security questions they’ll ask if they phone you.
- Don’t feel pressured to act straight away. Take your time and seek advice if you receive a call asking you to do something you’re not sure about.
- Unwanted sales and marketing calls can be stopped for free by signing up to the Telephone Preference Service. Most junk mail can also be stopped by opting out at the Mailing Preference Service.
- Never let somebody talk you into downloading software, or to log on to your computer or other devices, such as your mobile phone or a tablet, remotely during or after a cold call.
Getting support with scams
Scammers use clever, high-pressure tactics so you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you have been scammed. There is help available.
If you're worried you’ve been scammed or given your details to the wrong people, tell someone close to you, and report it to your bank and the police straight away. Alzheimer’s Society is here to support you.
Dementia Support Line
This was first published in March 2020 and most recently updated in November 2021.