Cyber criminals stole over £73,000 from older people in Hertfordshire last year

Over £4m stolen through cybercrime from older people in the UK last year, Age UK reveals

Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 3:34 pm

Older people in Hertfordshire lost over £73,000 last year, according to new cybercrime data acquired by the charity Age UK.

A Freedom of Information request to Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, found that Hertfordshire police received 96 reports of cybercrime from people aged 55 and over, between April 2018 and March 2019. Cyber criminals stole £73,192 from older people in Hertfordshire during that period.

Police received 4,173 reports of cybercrime in England Wales, there was a reported total loss of £4,025,813 during that period in the UK. They made up 19% of the overall number of cybercrime victims. However, as it is estimated that only 3% of cybercrime is reported to authorities, the actual figures are likely to be much higher.

Cyber criminals stole over £73,000 from older people in Hertfordshire last year

Cybercrime, or computer orientated crime, can take many forms but some of the most common examples are phishing, investment fraud, identity theft, fraudulent adverts, and blackmail. This could be a handbag that never materialises, a cryptocurrency investment or an online auction site scam.

Unfortunately, the problem has only got worse during lockdown.

Age UK statistics acquired from Action Fraud also revealed older people in England and Wales were scammed out of over £2.4m during lockdown because of COVID-19 related fraud.

There were 3,162 COVID-19 related fraud and cybercrime reports made to Action Fraud 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.

DI Rob Burns from Hertfordshire Police's Serious Fraud and Cyber Unit said: "Cyber crime continues to be a significant and growing threat to Hertfordshire residents and unfortunately many victims are elderly or vulnerable.

"Unlike some other types of crime, cyber and fraud offences have continued to increase during lockdown and often the victims who are affected the most, are those who are in the over 55 age bracket.

"Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Serious Fraud and Cyber Unit are a dedicated team of specially trained officers who constantly monitor and investigate cyber and fraud offences.

"They work in partnership with the National Crime Agency, Action Fraud and other partners to ensure that any new threats are identified and relevant advice is quickly passed onto potential victims.

"Throughout the pandemic advice on all emerging threats has been shared through the press, online media and via the force’s Online Watch Link (OWL).

"Recently advice that has been shared includes warnings about scammers posing as HMRC, NHS Test and Trace, police and banking officials.

"All of the current advice around online and offline fraud can be found at www.herts.police.uk/protectyourmoney.

"Residents can also sign up to our OWL system at www.owl.co.uk and get advice and crime alerts sent direct to their email accounts.

"Residents are also advised to follow @HertsPolice on Twitter and Facebook to get all of the latest advice and news."

To help raise awareness of the problem, Age UK has created an interactive map outlining how many cybercrimes against older people were reported in each regional police force and the amount of money lost.

The map reveals the worst affected region outside of London was Dorset, where cyber criminals stole £277,902 from older people. Nationally, the total loss reported from these crimes is £3,741,926.

More and more older people have been going online to work, shop and keep in touch with friends and family. During lockdown many have felt forced to go online to stay connected but often without the proper support and guidance that they may want and need.

Those that were isolated or needed help getting essential shopping may be doing so for the first time which could put them at extra risk. Age UK is warning older people across the country to be extra vigilant and providing advice to support them.

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.

"Since lockdown began there have been over 3,000 reports of fraud and cybercrime from people aged 55 and over. We know it is a hugely underreported crime, so these figures are likely to just be the tip of the iceberg.

"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.

Whilst supporting older people to stay safe online, Age UK is also calling for social media and technology firms to do more to protect their users against fraud and cybercrime.

Stopping fake profiles and scams ads appearing in the first place will help keep more older people safe and allow them to enjoy more of the benefits of being online with less of the worry.

For advice and tips on staying safe online call Age UK’s free national Advice Line on 0800 169 65 65 or visit Age UK's website: www.ageuk.org.uk/scams.