Helen Martin: Scammers are the scum of the earth

Fraudsters often prey on the elderly in our society in the guise of pushing their services. Picture: John Devlin (posed by model)
Fraudsters often prey on the elderly in our society in the guise of pushing their services. Picture: John Devlin (posed by model)
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GLOBALISATION and technology have helped major companies reduce staff and increase profits.

They have also been a major boost to scammers. In a consumer society where face-to-face service is almost extinct, and a call centre operator could be based anywhere in the world, it’s no wonder so many are duped by callers they believe are from the bank, a software company, their internet provider, or even the police and HMRC. The elderly are specially at risk. They’ve been brought up to have faith in such organisations, to be polite, and co-operative.

Entire TV series, hours of police time and investigations are taken up by foiling these scammers, yet the only method of prevention so far, apart from extra scrutiny by bank workers, seems to be warning victims not to be fooled.

A recent local case involved an 80-year-old retired accountant, a smart gent who enjoyed his independence but lost £30,000 in a phone scam.

His chartered surveyor niece hit the nail on the head when she said: “Older people have a different perception of crime. They can’t comprehend it [scamming].” She added: “He still believes he is going to get the money back because he thinks it was a large organisation.”

Putting the onus on the elderly to be on their guard and defensive is neither fair nor effective. It’s a complex situation. How can they be alert to something they don’t recognise or understand?

Naturally, they want to appear independent and in control, not old and needy – but that in itself can be a weakness. Understanding and accepting their vulnerability in a fast-changing, every-man-for-himself society is being smart, not doddery. They need protection, with a blanket age limit, be it 70, 75, 80, so no “insulting” assessment.

Telephone companies, the government or councils could provide simple call-blocking handsets for those who qualify, programmed with the numbers of friends and family, their own bank, their lawyer, GP and any other essentials with all other numbers blocked.

They could automatically be registered with the Telephone Preference Service. Fines for flaunting that register need to be racked up.

Doorstep sales calls on the elderly could be made an offence. Despite junk mail now forming a huge proportion of Royal Mail business, that too should be banned. Genuine sales companies should never cold call the elderly on the phone, and if they do, the first question should be “Are you over 70?”. If the answer is “yes”, they should have no right to continue.

Most elderly people watch a lot of television. It’s company as well as entertainment. So with all the glossy, never-ending commercials pushing broadband and power suppliers, banks, insurance etc, why shouldn’t these businesses also protect customers by spending a reasonable amount explaining scamming risks at peak viewing times?

Paper billing, account statements and council communication are necessary for many older citizens. An extra note in every one saying: “If you believe our bank/company/authority has contacted you by phone or e-mail, do not give out any information, just hang up and ring this number” would be helpful too.

Scamming is a vicious crime that needs more legislation, defences and heavier penalties, all of which in the long run could save police time. And isn’t it only fair that companies and large organisations who benefit from globalisation and technology should protect vulnerable customers who suffer emotional and financial damage as a result?

‘We’ve went here’ and not got a result

IT can be tough coming from a generation where grammar was all-important and meant the difference between pass or fail.

A headline in a newspaper last week made me scream when it included the phrase “fed up of”. It’s a modern variant of “bored of” – both of which are wrong. “Fed up with” is correct, as is “bored with” or “bored by”.

Other horrendous and common bloomers include “people that do wrong” instead of “people who do wrong”, and “should of remembered” which should read “should have remembered”.

It takes some time to recognise it’s all part of “progress”. Language and grammar, like everything else, evolves. We oldsters just have to grit our teeth, wince, and accept all those black marks and red-penned “x”s are confined to history. Now we just have to Lol!

Fridge camera leaves me cold

I suspect the latest kitchen gadget – a fridge camera viewed from a smartphone allegedly removing the need for a shopping list – has been invented by a pointy-head who doesn’t cook or a Martian who lives on fresh air.

Only certain fresh foods should be kept in the fridge, accounting for about a quarter of the list. The camera can zoom in to count eggs on the shelf (eggs shouldn’t be kept in a fridge).

Anything with its wrapper opened in my fridge (cheese, meat, olives, berries) then lives in a recycled plastic tub probably labelled as margarine, yoghurt, sauce or soup.

And just because something is there, doesn’t mean it’s edible. If you can’t smell it, touch it or read the use by date, it could be destined for the bin.

Finally, it’s time to admit there are some things a smartphone cannot do.