• Jenni Perkins

Staying ahead of scammers

There have been recent reports of scammers targeting older people receiving Home Care Packages. The telephone scam involves offering a better Home Care Package, and then luring the client into paying money or purchasing home care vouchers.

Scams come in all shapes and forms. A 96 year-old friend contacted a plumber to fix a leaking pipe. The plumber suggested she replace her hot water system - particularly as it would be Christmas soon and she wouldn’t want to be without hot water would she? Concerned, she asked me what should she do? We arranged for our plumber to assess the situation. He advised the heater did not need to be replaced – and expressed his frustration at the practice of worrying elderly consumers unnecessarily to undertake work prematurely.

A friend’s 86 year-old neighbour lived on her own. Her son from interstate contacted my friend, expressing concern that a significant amount of money was missing from his mother’s account. In reviewing bank transactions over the past two years, he had discovered multiple payments to a handyman and tree trimming business. The frequency of visits had increased over the last two months, with cheques being written every couple of days, because his mother did not remember she had already paid. He uncovered over $90,000 in payments – for work either not completed, or unnecessary.

Scammers often prey on the loneliness and isolation of seniors. Research suggests that elderly women in their 80’s and living at home are often the most likely targets for financial scams and fraud. For any scam, an especially vulnerable time is the three years after some major stress, such as the loss of a spouse.

Some helpful things you can do:

  • check out the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) information for seniors and subscribe for free to Scamwatch which has specialist advice for seniors

  • get a copy of the ACCC publication, The Little Black Book of Scams which details common scams to look out for and how to protect yourself

  • check out the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) consumer alerts which provide information on the latest phone scams

  • reduce unsolicited phone calls by going on the ACMA do not call register for free

  • consider replacing the home landline with a mobile, where scam calls are less frequent

  • check out information on latest scams on WA Scam Net

  • report a suspected scam to Scamwatch or WA Scam Net

  • call the local police if theft or fraud is suspected.

Be wary of door-to-door salesman, offers for unsolicited home maintenance work, claims that emergency work is required, pressure to accept an offer on the spot, or requirements for deposits or full payment before work is commenced.

Don’t enter into any financial agreements without first getting advice, and never sign a document you don’t understand. Always get more than one quote for work that needs to be done, get everything in writing before work commences, and check licenses and references.

Don’t give financial information (eg credit card, bank account details) over the phone or directly to someone.

If you are worried a family member or friend may be vulnerable, then it can be helpful to maintain regular contact and talk with them about what is happening in their daily life so that you know who is coming and going. Ask them to only use a trusted contractor and not to engage anyone on the doorstep – and to ring you if they are worried.

Keep up to date with the latest scams and discuss these with them, and remind them never to give personal details to anyone over the phone. It may be helpful to write a note near the phone/computer as a reminder not to divulge information such as bank accounts, passwords, or social security details. Or put a sign near the door as a reminder not to engage with tradesmen who come to the door uninvited.

National Scams Awareness Week will be held from 12 – 16 August.

Go to Live Well Longer free resource Being Alert to Scams to find out more about scams and how to help protect against being targeted by scammers.

Become a member of Live Well Longer to access our full range of free practical resources.