By Fergal Parkinson, Co-founder and Director of TMT Analysis
There’s a curious mutual awareness between fraudsters and their victims.
The scam merchants know that the older their intended victim, the more susceptible they may be to falling for a carefully-constructed confidence trick – whether that’s revealing their account details believing they’re talking to their own bank or unwittingly having their phone account taken over.
But, rather than being their unwitting victims, these days older people are themselves increasingly aware that they are the most likely group to be targeted by fraudsters. They know the scammers are out there and they know they are personally vulnerable to them.
You might almost be persuaded to see it all as some benign, nature-in-harmony yin and yang arrangement – like Lord Attenborough surveying the lions and wildebeest on the savannah. Almost but not quite.
Because then you remind yourself of the bottomless cynicism of the scammers – of their unrelenting determination to sniff out weakness and to steal from those who display it, no matter the devastating cost to their victims. They are more vicious in their way than those lions.
But the fact that their potential victims are aware of their menace is a relatively new development: years of high profile publicity around the prevalence of these crimes has educated people of all ages to a level that simply didn’t exist before.
For instance: the BBC show Rip Off Britain with Gloria Hunniford and Angela Rippon highlights scams and tricks to watch out for, and Strictly Come Dancing is just about to begin its latest annual outing and among the contestants is TV presenter Helen Skelton. She has spoken publicly about having £70,000 of savings stolen from her bank account after falling for a persuasive caller’s patter – to her eternal cost.
Stories like this are now appearing so regularly and are so media-prevalent that they’ve cut through to the public at large in a way that means awareness of risk is higher than ever before.
And the sheer prevalence of these crimes – the cost of fraud to the UK economy alone is £190 billion a year – also means that increasingly many people will personally know a victim.
All of which adds up to a situation in which risk awareness is undoubtedly higher than ever before in older people.
Then there’s another relatively new factor: the pool of older people who don’t go online is diminishing to the point of being negligible. Someone qualifying for their state pension in 2022 would have been barely out of their thirties when the internet became mainstream so it’s not something that’s news to them: they are not internet-averse as the previous generation of older people almost certainly was. They will be using the net to shop, using it for banking, using Facebook to keep in contact with their children and the rest of it. The pandemic only accelerated a trend driving more people online.
But there remains, perhaps, a perception in the commercial world that those same older consumers who are most likely to be targeted by fraudsters are also change resistant – that they aren’t as confident with tech-based security solutions as younger consumers so can be frightened off by these: “Why do I have to keep changing my password?”,”Why is it asking about my data preferences?” and so on.
In fact research carried out by us at TMT shows quite the opposite: we found that the older a customer is, the more receptive they tend to be to hearing reassuring messages around fraud detection measures. In our survey we found that two in three over 55s are more likely to be a customer of a financial services provider if they make it clear they have a robust application process. This is a higher demand than the average of 59% of customers of all ages. The older consumer wants to be protected.
The good news from a fraud detection point of view is that the perception of older people as change-resistant very much is true when it comes to keeping or changing their mobile phone number. The vast majority of them don’t want the hassle that comes with a new number and will make the effort to transport their old one when changing accounts – if they bother changing accounts at all.
Back to that TMT research again: we found that two-thirds have had the same mobile number for at least five years. And half of those say they would rather change their bank account than their phone number.
So from our point of view as security specialists that gives us an immediate and huge advantage in the battle to detect fraud and to prevent it before it can happen: our insight into billions of phone numbers allows us to notice unusual activity and to flag it in an instant.
This gives older people a huge reassurance: our client companies can prevent them from becoming victims. And they can reassure them that if they do fall prey to a scam which sees unusual money movements occurring that their provider will notice it long before they do. And stop it.
Everything we’ve learned about this consumer age-group in our research suggests this is what they want to hear – and that they will be better disposed to engage with businesses that can tell them this.