Dementia is a devastating disease that affects memory, thinking, and reasoning. As dementia progresses, your loved one’s ability to manage their money and make sound financial decisions usually becomes increasingly impaired.

According to figures from the Alzheimer’s Society, one in six people over the age of 80 currently have dementia, and cruelly, this often makes them a target for unscrupulous scammers. While no-one wants to worry about the risk of someone they love with dementia falling victim to a scam, there are various steps that you may be able to take to reduce the chances of this happening.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most common types of scam that someone with dementia might be targeted by, and what you can do to protect them.

What are the common scams targeting people with dementia in the UK?

People with dementia are unfortunately more likely than most to fall victim to one of the growing number of scams around these days due to their illness causing confusion and loss of judgement. Something as simple as clicking on a link in an email or online advertisement could lead them to disclose financial information to scammers, for example. Alternatively, callers impersonating legitimate companies may also be able to more easily coerce those with dementia into making payments or sharing sensitive data over the phone.

Those in the earlier stages with dementia who still live independently and handle their own affairs are often especially at risk of falling prey to scammers, as they may not have anyone around to monitor their actions. Here are some common scams that dementia suffers may be particularly at risk from, and how they work:

Doorstep scams

These scams involve fraudsters posing as legitimate tradespeople or service providers, such as roofers, driveway cleaners, or utility workers. They may approach the person with dementia at home, offering services or claiming that urgent work needs to be done. Once inside the home, they may overcharge, perform substandard work, or steal valuables.  

What you can do: Tell the person with dementia not to allow unexpected tradespeople into their home. Put a plan in place to thoroughly vet and supervise any workers that do need to enter the home. You could install security cameras and additional locks. For example, you could buy a Ring doorbell and share access to this so you can check who is at their door too. You could then tell your loved one not to let strangers in without your approval.

Distraction burglaries

These scams involve one person distracting the individual with dementia, often by asking for directions or pretending to be lost, while an accomplice gains entry to their home and steals valuables or cash. The distraction technique takes advantage of the person’s reduced mental capabilities and difficulty in recognising suspicious behaviour.

What you can do: Remind your loved one frequently to never let strangers into their home, even if they seem confused or in need of assistance. Have a plan for your loved one to immediately close and lock the door if a stranger approaches. Consider installing security cameras to monitor the exterior of the home.

Email scams

Scammers may try sending a link or use a QR code within an email to a vulnerable person (though this is a scam that can affect anyone). This will claim to be from an official organisation, such as HMRC, or a bank, or a major retailer such as Amazon. The email may claim you can buy a product using the link/code, get money back, or that you need to provide your details for security purposes.

What you can do: Monitor your loved one’s email accounts closely for any suspicious messages. Set strict security settings and browser controls to prevent inadvertent clicks on malicious links or downloads. Emphasize that they should never provide personal or financial information over email, no matter how legitimate the request seems.

Telephone scams

Scammers may call individuals with dementia, posing as representatives from reputable organisations, such as banks, utility companies, or government agencies. They may claim that there is an issue with the person’s account or a problem that needs to be resolved urgently. The scammer may then attempt to obtain personal information, such as bank account details or passwords, which can be used for financial fraud. 

What you can do: Create a plan with your loved one to simply hang up on any unsolicited calls claiming to be from companies or agencies. They should never provide personal or financial information over the phone unless they have initiated the call to a verified number. Consider buying a call blocking phone (BT offers several optiosn) to give greater control over which calls are accepted or rejected. 

Charity scams

Fraudsters may take advantage of the generosity and trusting nature of individuals with dementia by posing as representatives from fake charities or organisations. They may ask for donations or attempt to sell overpriced goods or services, claiming that the proceeds will go towards a charitable cause.

What you can do: Remind your loved one to be very sceptical of any unsolicited requests for donations, whether by phone, mail, email or in person. Establish a policy that all charitable donations must be approved by you or another family member first.

Romance scams

Romance fraud, as the name suggests, is a type of scam where fraudsters develop fake romantic relationships with people, both online and in person, with the aim of either stealing their money or personal information. Vulnerable people, such as those with dementia or mental health problems, are particularly susceptible to this kind of scam. Romance fraudsters may spend weeks, months, or even years, wooing an unsuspecting victim and convincing them they are in a real relationship. Once they’ve gained the trust of their victim, the fraudster will create a scenario where they need a large sum of money. 

What you can do: Have open conversations with your loved one about new romantic interests, especially those met online or through unknown circumstances. Emphasise never sending money or sharing financial details with someone they have not met in person and vetted thoroughly. Monitor their bank accounts closely for suspicious activity.

You can read our guide Latest Scams to watch out for in 2024 to find out more about the latest scams, and what you can do to avoid them.

How can you protect a dementia sufferer from scams?

When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it’s crucial to take steps to manage their finances as the illness progresses. The best way to do this is to get them to grant a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) before the dementia diagnosis. This is a legal agreement that lets you legally manage their finances by controlling accounts, making investment decisions, paying bills, and providing them with an allowance through a separate account or card. Without an LPA in place, you may need to go through the lengthy and expensive court process of becoming an appointed ‘Deputy’, which grants similar authority over their assets. 

When you become then register the Power of Attorney with their bank and any other financial providers, and manage the accounts on their behalf. To simplify this process, you can organise all their documents, including account numbers, debts, assets, etc. This allows you to fully understand their situation and spot any red flags, such as potential fraud, unpaid bills or debt issues. You can read more about 

The two different types of LPA in England and Wales are a Property and Financial Affairs LPA and a Health and Welfare LPA. The former allows your attorney (the person you appoint) to manage your bank accounts, investments and taxes, bills and sale of your home. A Health and Welfare LPA, meanwhile, allows your attorney to make decisions about your health, such as what treatments you receive and whether you go into care.

You can learn more about how LPAs work in our article What is a lasting power of attorney and why do you need one?

How you can protect your loved one’s finances

Here’s are some ways that you can help to safeguard your loved one’s financial well-being:

Consolidate accounts: Provided you have a Lasting Power of Attorney over your loved one’s financial affairs, you may want to consider streamlining their accounts so that they are all held with one or two major UK banks or building societies. This can greatly simplify account monitoring, making it easier to spot any unauthorised activity quickly. Having accounts scattered across multiple institutions increases complexity and opportunities for scammers.

Enable two-factor authentication: Enhance security by setting up two-factor or multi-factor authentication on all financial accounts and emails. This adds an extra layer requiring a one-time code sent via text, email or app to access accounts. You can also set up text/email alerts for transactions exceeding a certain amount.

Monitor statements: Regularly and thoroughly review all bank, credit card, investment and other financial statements. Establish a routine of going through these to identify any unfamiliar charges or withdrawals. Set up automatic payments for routine bills to prevent lapses that scammers could exploit.

Tell the bank/provider: Inform each of your loved one’s financial account providers that they have dementia. Ask about any special fraud monitoring services and protective measures they provide for vulnerable customers. See if you can be added as an authorised user to monitor activity.

Register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS): This free service can significantly reduce unsolicited marketing calls, which often lead to scam attempts. Register your loved one’s landline and mobile numbers online here. You can also filter out international calls which are common for technical support scams.

Secure personal information: Safely store or shred any documents containing sensitive personal and financial information like National Insurance numbers, passport details, birthdate, account numbers, etc. You could buy and use locked filing cabinets if needed.  

Credit report and protective registration: Request free credit reports from one of the main agencies and review them carefully. These include Clearscore, Experian and Equifax. These should show any recently opened accounts, for example, and whether their credit score remains as expected. You can also register with CIFAS Protection Register to make lenders aware of your loved one’s vulnerability and get extra identity verification steps.

What should you do if your loved one falls victim to fraud?

If you suspect that someone you know has been the victim of a scam, there are certain steps you should take as quickly as possible to minimise losses. 

Contact their bank immediately to report the incident so they can put a stop to further fraudulent transactions. You should also report any fraud or cybercrime to Action Fraud, either online or by calling 0300 123 2040. 

Being a victim of fraud can be emotionally devastating. Those who have been scammed often feel embarrassed and reluctant to share their experience, even though the blame lies squarely on the scammers. If you or your loved one needs support coping with the emotional toll, reach out to Victim Support, either through their online resources or via their support line at 0808 1689111. Think Jessica, a charity dedicated to protecting vulnerable older adults from fraud and scams, is also available to provide assistance. The Samaritans will also offer a listening ear 24/7 at 116 123 for those in need of someone to talk to.

In the unfortunate event that a scam has left your loved one facing financial hardship, seek guidance from Citizens Advice on 03444 111 444. Lines are open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday. With the proper support, it’s possible to recover from the impacts of fraud and take steps to prevent future risks.

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