For the two pensioners living in their home in Blackpool, England, their nightmare began when a 38-year-old man who identified himself only as "Gerry" first contacted them. Identifying himself as an account manager at the Lloyd's bank they had been using for years, he then told the couple that "fraudulent transactions" had been detected on their joint account and warned them that they were being targeted for fraud. The couple, aged 81 and 80, who cannot be publicly named for their own protection, both suffer from dementia and were easily persuaded to reveal confidential financial details which they believed would help "Gerry" with his investigation.
Except that the friendly customer service advisor was actually a 38-year-old confidence artist named Syed Bukhari. Within weeks, Bukhari had set up ten scam credit cards, redirected the couple's mail, and even diverted their telephone landline so that he could continue scamming the couple out of their life savings of £150,000. He also attempted to take out a £40,000 bank loan which led to his arrest. Unfortunately, by the time police managed to unravel his entire scheme, the couple's house, which they had lived in for 40 years, had already been sold to a private company with the proceeds going straight to Bukhari. As part of their investigation, police learned that Bukhari had spent all the money he had stolen on numerous luxuries including trips to Dubai, stays in luxury hotels, and repeated hair transplant operations.
While Bukhari has since been sentenced to seven years in prison, the economic consequences for the two victims are grim. Though family members are contesting the sale of the house, it seems unlikely that their life savings will ever be returned to them. As for the couple's 55-year-old son, unraveling what has been done to his parents is proving to be a nightmare. " “Every time I'm sorting through my dad's financial affairs he asks what I'm doing and I have to tell him he's been conned - each time the shock and upset is exactly the same as the first time.”
In a media interview, Detective Sergeant Janette Bashall, from Lancashire Police's Economic Crime Unit, said the couple “had worked hard all their lives to be able to retire in some comfort yet he [Bukhari] saw to destroy this by taking their home and hard earned savings, defrauding them of in excess of £350,000”. Police also suspect that Bukhari had been working as part of a gang targeting vulnerable elders by posing as bank officials though, so far, no other members of this gang have been located.
Sadly, identity thieves often target the elderly because they tend to have considerable assets saved up and are also less likely to be suspicious of strange emails or phone calls. They are also more likely to be dependent on help from family members or friends for help, especially if they are suffering from dementia or other medical issues, which makes them more susceptible to scams. And even afterwards, many seniors are reluctant to call police due to embarrassment or the fear that their family members would force them into a nursing home.
To avoid being scammed, seniors or their family members need to keep a close eye on their bank and credit card statements and report any unauthorized activity. As more Baby Boomers reach retirement age and become vulnerable to diseases such as dementia, the risk posed by scam artists will only increase with time.