The rise of the cybercriminal: Older people scammed out of more than £2.4m during lockdown

The pandemic has seen a spike in cybercriminals targeting older people who have been scammed out of more than £2.4m during lockdown due to COVID-19 related fraud.

According to figures by Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, there were 3,162 COVID-19 related fraud and cybercrime reports made to them in lockdown between March 23, 2020 and July 31, 2020. 701 of those reports had a victim aged 55 and over, which accumulated to £2.4 million in reported losses.

Older people in Greater Manchester were a prime target for Cybercriminals last year.

A total of £87,849 was lost by older people across Greater Manchester last year, according to new cybercrime data collected by Action Fraud after a Freedom of Information request.

It found that Greater Manchester Police received 126 reports of cybercrime between April 2018 and March 2019 from people aged 55 and over.

Older people made up 15% of the overall number of cybercrime victims in the area during this period. However, as it is estimated that only 3% of cybercrime is reported to authorities, the actual figures are likely to be much higher and getting increasingly worse this year during the pandemic.

Now Age UK is calling for social media and technology firms to do more to protect their users against fraud and cybercrime.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “During lockdown, the majority of us relied on the internet to stay connected and we know that some older people were also encouraged to go online for the first time. That’s hopefully something they have enjoyed and benefited from and will want to continue now lockdown is being eased. However, unfortunately, we also know that cybercriminals were very active in exploiting the situation, seeking to con older people out of their hard-earned cash.

“Online crime is often highly sophisticated and tough to spot so anyone can be taken in, but if you are new to the internet and learned to use it in a rush, with little support, you are potentially more vulnerable to being caught out.

“No one should feel ashamed to ask for help from family and friends and for all of us, whether we are experienced computer users or not, sticking to the simple online safety rules remains tremendously important. These include being on the alert at all times for the risk of a scam, not opening attachments in emails that come from an unknown source and remembering that if we are offered an online deal that looks too good to be true it almost certainly is.

“Fraud and cybercrime can have catastrophic and life-changing effects, not just financially, but on older people’s health and wellbeing. It can also have a massive impact on their confidence and can lead them to stopping going online altogether.

“All this means that older people, like everyone else, need to go online with their eyes wide open to the potential risks, but the internet still has a huge amount to offer and we recommend anyone who hasn’t yet taken the plunge to do so, preferably with some help and support.”

The majority of the fraud linked to coronavirus involves online purchases for personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, that never arrive. Criminals have also been sending phishing emails and texts claiming to be from the Government, HMRC, BBC TV licencing, and health bodies to convince the recipient to open links or attachments and get them to reveal personal or financial information.

Older people and their families can find advice and tips on staying safe online by calling Age UK’s free national Advice Line on 0800 169 65 65 (365 days a year from 8am–7pm) or on Age UK’s website at www.ageuk.org.uk/scams. Here they can also find links to copies of Age UK’s free, downloadable guides Avoiding scams and Staying safe.

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