A Bournemouth University professor has been providing resources to help health and social care workers protect vulnerable people from scamming during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Professor Keith Brown has been assisting the NHS Covid-19 Emergency Response, working with the Deputy Directors of Nursing and Safeguarding for NHS England to produce weekly videos to help NHS and community workers identify people at risk of being scammed.
He has also co-produced guidance for community health and social care workers, highlighting some of the techniques and tactics scammers use to target vulnerable people.
Criminals are exploiting the pandemic to scam elderly and vulnerable people who are likely to be self-isolating at home.
“There’s been a surge in scamming and fraud,” said Professor Brown, who is Director of the National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work and Professional Practice.
“In situations like this you get the best of people and the worst of people, and it’s evidently an opportunity that some people are using to defraud the vulnerable.
“If older people are isolated at home, they are more susceptible to people phoning and mailing them, as well as knocking on their door.
“These people are also going to be lonely and the longer they are isolated and out of touch with other people, the more affected they will be.”
Reported scams include offering false coronavirus tests, phishing emails, and people taking money or card details by knocking on doors and offering to buy food and essential supplies.
Professor Brown’s videos are being used by the NHS safeguarding team and have been added to an online portal for NHS and community workers.
A guide produced by the NCPQSW in collaboration with Dr Elisabeth Carter, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Forensic Linguist at the University of Roehampton, outlines the persuasive language and types of scams that are frequently used.
This includes making communications look like they come from official sources, such as the government, and making victims feel like they need to respond urgently.
The guide is being shared by the NHS and Care England to assist community nurses and social care workers supporting those who are being ‘shielded' and are therefore isolated and very vulnerable to fraud.
Professor Brown said: "This guidance is designed to help those working in the community to support often isolated and lonely people so that they can better identify those people who are being defrauded and scammed, alongside practical advice on what to do and how to report these crimes.
"For many people ‘shielding‘ will be required for a considerable time and unfortunately fraudsters know this and they will actively target these very isolated citizens, seeing them as easy targets to make a profit from."
He added: “We are asking community workers to be vigilant – if they are visiting vulnerable people, is there a pile of unsolicited mail or is the telephone ringing constantly?”
“The best way to protect people is to physically prevent them from being ‘attacked’ in the first place. Once a scammer gains access, they put people under enormous pressure and hound them until they crack, to give their bank details or personal information.”
His advice includes setting up mail redirection services so friends or relatives can check for scam mail, call blocking technology, and a doorbell camera so that you can see and record those approaching a loved one’s house.
Professor Brown has previously helped to create national guidelines around protecting vulnerable people from financial scams.
His team has led the national research into fraud and financial scams on behalf of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and the National Trading Standards Scams Team. He has also been working in partnership with key organisations and politicians to develop research and raise awareness of the impact of financial scamming on society, and the National Centre has produced three all party parliamentary reports into fraud and scams.
He said: “The fact that we were the first port of call for NHS England demonstrates our reach and reputation. We as a BU community need to remind ourselves in these difficult times that some of our work really is of national significance and makes a difference to our society.”
Find out more about the work of the NCPQSW and protecting yourself from financial scams on the NCPQSW website.