Belfast Telegraph

The conmen callers who prey on elderly people

By Frances Burscough

I’ve been staying with my dad in England all this week. He’s 83 and has lived alone since mum died eight years ago. He’s a bit wobbly on his feet and suffers from short-term memory loss and occasional bouts of confusion, so he needs someone with him most of the time.

Seeing Dad reach this stage in his life and spending time in close proximity with him has been a real eye-opener for me in many ways. Gradually, over a period of months, you become aware of how your roles are slowly reversing, like the sands of time in an hourglass finally tipping and changing course. Whereas for decades he was the one giving advice and guidance in everyday situations, it’s now me advising him. A perfect example is that age-old phrase “don’t talk to strangers”. How many times did he and Mum repeat that over and over again to us as we were growing up? It was almost like a mantra, every time we were going anywhere without them they would say it. Now it’s me saying virtually the same thing to him. Why? Because in the last few months my dad has been plagued by complete strangers.

Let’s rewind a bit, to where I believe this all started. As a couple, Mum and Dad were always very generous and they had a number of monthly pledges that went out automatically from their bank account. Oxfam, Cafod, Save the Children and Trocaire to name but a few, were among the many reputable organisations that they contributed to. This went on for years and it never entered their heads to question them. But somewhere, somehow, along the way, the data that my parents had provided in all good faith fell into the wrong hands. The end result is now a daily bombarment of  phone calls from all-and-sundry wanting to help my poor dad part with his hard-earned old-age pension.

Some of these come from so-called charities or fund-raisers who have  along the way (see above) obtained his name, address and phone number without his knowledge or consent and are trying to coerce him into a monthly direct debit; others are from chancers who are trying to sell him something he doesn’t want or need  (PPI mis-sold? Loft insulation? Loft conversion? Solar panels? Double glazing? Funeral expenses?) and some are just conmen crooks, plain and simple.

Only last week as I arrived at the house the phone was ringing. I answered and it was an automated voice, with all the warmth and personal charm of a Dalek.

“It has come to our attention that you have been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance...”

Click. I hung up straight away. When I told Dad it was a bogus caller he seemed perplexed. “Well that shouldn’t be happening any more!” He said. “At least not now that I’m paying all that money for call screening”

“Errrr...what do you mean, Dad?” I asked, a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Well a nice man from the telephone company phoned up yesterday and said he was aware I’d been getting a lot of nuisance calls. So he offered to monitor all the calls we get from now on and block them. All I had to do was give him my name, address and bank account details and...” Before he could finish the sentence I was on the phone to BT.

No, they hadn’t called my dad. No, they knew nothing about this. No, they couldn’t identify the caller because it was an untraceable number. My sister and I immediately cancelled Dad’s credit cards and notified the bank of the scam. One hundred and fifty quid they were trying to take, and that was just their first transaction. God only knows what might have happened. How could anyone do this, taking advantage of an old man who was clearly at his wits end already with all the harassment?

Well it seems it’s not only my dad who’s been victimised. In fact, there have been so many complaints about charity cold-call tactics and data protection issues that the government has this week agreed to completely overhaul the system, introducing a new watchdog armed with stringent laws and the power to punish offenders.

It’s about bloody time, too, if you ask me. And my dad.

Belfast Telegraph


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