Alan Wilkinson is a retired gas safety inspector from Lancaster. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year after suffering memory problems for eight years and is struggling to live independently.
His son, Oliver, has been doing his best to help take care of him. But it has since come to light that in a horrifying example of exploitation, the 71-year-old has been ruthlessly hounded by scammers.
At one point, he was receiving as many as 50 cold calls a day from crooks encouraging him to invest in everything from wine and gold to art.
Victims aged over 70 have lost a devastating £425.3m to fraud since May last year, according to reporting service Action Fraud. And those aged between 90 and 99 reported £80.8m stolen
And the relentless siege of calls has cost him his £120,000 retirement nest-egg.
Yet, devastatingly, Alan is far from alone, and thought to be one of tens of thousands of vulnerable pensioners who have been left at the mercy of fraudsters.
Money Mail is today calling on banks to bring in stronger protections to safeguard elderly customers and prevent them losing their life savings to criminals.
Alan had regularly sent £3,000 in cash to an address in London, and in just one week he made three £10,000 transactions to a company claiming to offer investments in gold.
Yet, despite a pattern of large and unusual payments, his bank NatWest made no attempt to intervene.
Oliver, 30, was only alerted to the scams when the police contacted him in March last year.
In May, he and Alan went to a NatWest branch in Lancaster, where Oliver asked the cashier if they could stop all large payments leaving his dad’s account, but they refused.
He says: ‘It was atrocious. I explained there was no need for him to be making these transactions; he has paid off the mortgage and I was helping him with the shopping.
‘At the very least, I asked if it could alert me when these payments were coming out of his account, but I was told there was nothing it could do apart from reduce his daily cash withdrawal limit to £50. I can’t believe the bank had let this go on so long and it was still refusing to help.’
Oliver applied for power of attorney so he could manage his father’s affairs, but this was only granted in October.
In the meantime, NatWest continued to allow Alan to make large transfers and payments.
Fraud expert Richard Emery, from consultancy 4Keys International, says: ‘NatWest should have not only looked at this customer’s vulnerability, but a glance at his payments history should have been enough to warrant a conversation about these transactions.
‘Banks should be looking at historical payments to assess whether their customers are being scammed by criminals.’
More than half of over-65s say they have been targeted by scams, according to National Trading Standards (NTS).
And vulnerable adults, such as those with dementia, are at even higher risk as they are unlikely to even realise they have been scammed, let alone report it.
Campaigning: Oliver Wilkinson with his dad Alan who lost about £120,000 to fraudsters who relentlessly targeted him in his retirement
There are more than 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. The condition affects one in 14 over-65s, and one-in-six people over the age of 80.
Telephone scams are a particular problem for older people as they may live alone, are isolated, and are often at home.
Those over the age of 70 are far more likely to be preyed on by nuisance callers, says NTS. This not only puts their finances at risk, but their emotional and physical wellbeing, too.
Victims aged over 70 have lost a devastating £425.3 million to fraud since May last year, according to reporting service Action Fraud.
And those aged between 90 and 99 reported £80.8 million stolen; an average of £34,574 each.
This is despite these victims only accounting for 2,337 of the 54,832 cases reported in the over 70s age group. By contrast, those in their 20s lost £159.2 million, an average of £1,846 each.
Fraudsters often target victims by posing as someone they trust, such as their bank, the police and other authorities such as HMRC, or pretend to offer investment opportunities.
Victims can also be preyed on by ruthless businesses which repeatedly call to ask for donations or pressure them to buy goods they already have or do not need.
Those who respond to scam calls and mail are typically put onto ‘suckers lists’ which are traded between fraudsters and lead to the same people being repeatedly targeted. The average age of someone on this type of list is 73, according to NTS.
Pensioner Joseph, who does not want to give his surname, lost more than £250,000 to a cryptocurrency scam earlier this year.
Joseph, who is in his early 70s, had initially invested £250 with an online trading company and the crooks claimed he had made a £50,000 profit.
But whenever he tried to withdraw his money, fraudsters told him he must first pay a 10 per cent fee.
Joseph, who lives in Derbyshire, was ill with septicaemia at the time and not well enough to know what he was doing.
So he continued to hand over money and, by the time he reported the scam to his bank, he had lost his life savings.
The police are now investigating, but his bank said that it will not refund his money because he was trading in cryptocurrency.
‘I can’t sleep as it’s always on my mind and I feel that I’ve not lived up to my promise to look after my wife’, he says.
‘We’re now destitute, we haven’t got a penny left for our retirement and future healthcare’.
Menace: Fraudsters often target victims by posing as someone they trust, such as their bank, the police and other authorities such as HMRC, or pretend to offer investment opportunities
Experts warn that banks are not doing nearly enough to identify vulnerable customers, enquire about suspicious payments or introduce measures that could prevent millions of pounds being lost to fraud.
Professor Keith Brown, an expert in safeguarding adults from fraud, says he has been calling for banks to introduce extra measures to protect people with dementia from scams since 2018.
His suggestions included delaying payments to give family members or the bank time to intervene. He also recommended that banks allow customers to nominate a trusted person who could receive text alerts when large payments are made so they know to step in if necessary.
He says: ‘The real issue is that elderly people with dementia may not know they are being scammed, and may not know how to report it. This is a huge problem and most of it is under the radar.
We need to put pressure on banks to protect this group of people and introduce accounts that address their needs.’
Conservative MP Peter Gibson, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Personal Banking and Fairer Financial Services, says: ‘While respecting that vulnerable people must be allowed to manage their own financial affairs, I support the proposal for ‘second-party notification’ so that a trusted relative or friend will be aware of what the vulnerable person is doing and can intervene if necessary.
Code fails fraud victims
Scam victims are being routinely failed by banks, a new report has found.
A voluntary code of conduct launched in 2019 sets out how firms should detect, prevent and respond to victims of bank transfer fraud.
But a damning review by the Lending Standards Board (LSB), which governs the code, has identified ‘systemic failings’.
It accuses firms of unfairly blaming customers, providing inconsistent information and exceeding time limits for investigations, which should be 15 days.
The LSB also found firms were holding customers liable for losses if they made a payment that triggered a ‘Confirmation of Payee’ warning which ensures the name on an account matches the number.
Emma Lovell, chief executive of the LSB, says: ‘Firms must act immediately. Time-bound action plans are in place and firms are clear on our expectations.’
‘Adding a ’24-hour delay’ to high-value payments to new payees would allow the ‘second party’ time to respond to the notification, discuss the payment with the person and, if necessary, stop it before it leaves the account.’
Caroline Abrahams, director at charity Age UK, says: ‘Scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and the impact on older people’s lives and finances can be devastating.
‘Every year, hundreds of thousands of older people fall victim to fraud, when this could possibly have been avoided had there been increased ‘friction’ in the payment process.
‘Features like second-party notification, or a delay for payments to new payees, would help, including for those living with dementia.’
Yet just two banks, Barclays and Nationwide, said they were considering introducing a system where customers could nominate a loved one to receive a text alert when making payments or bank transfers over a certain amount.
The customer would need to give permission for their relative to be notified and to keep an eye on their account. They would not be allowed to move money or make payments.
Lloyds claims it is not considering second-party notification because of its regulatory and legal obligations with regards to customer security. HSBC would not comment, while Santander and NatWest say they constantly review security measures.
At present, the only way to take control of a loved one’s finances is to apply for a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA), which can take up to 15 weeks to register.
It also costs £82 to register in England and Wales (or £81 in Scotland and £151 in Northern Ireland), but you may be entitled to a discount or free application if you are on a low income.
If you use a solicitor, fees range between £300 and £1,000 depending on the complexity of the advice.
Experts say offering the option of second-party notifications would provide a quicker and cheaper half-way house where relatives can help look after their loved ones’ finances with their consent, without taking full control of their accounts.
Introducing delays to large payments could be even more beneficial as it would not require customers to give permission.
And it would mean that they had more time to reverse the payment after speaking to friends and family.
NatWest recently introduced new rules to cap payment limits automatically to £5,000 for the 95 per cent of customers who have never paid someone more than this.
Customers can then choose to increase or decrease this limit.
Banking trade body UK Finance says: ‘Banks work hard to identify vulnerable customers and help protect them from fraud and scams.
‘This includes making it easier for a trusted third party to manage a customer’s account using LPAs and rolling out the Banking Protocol to online and telephone banking enabling bank staff to intervene if they think a customer is being scammed.
‘Anyone making a bank transfer can choose to schedule the payment for a later date, giving them time to think and speak to a trusted friend, family member or their bank before the money is sent.’
NatWest says it is still investigating Alan’s case, but claims it blocked ‘some’ payments.
A spokesman says: ‘Our community protection managers play an active role in supporting our vulnerable customers and will continue to support Mr Wilkinson with the safeguarding of his account.’
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