October 2017
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Don’t let your parents get scammed – a difficult conversation to have at Christmas

As most of you probably work, you won’t see much daytime TV. But there is one programme you should record to see when you get home – “You’ve been scammed” on BBC1 at 11.00 a.m. Mondays to Fridays. It’s estimated that scam artists cheat Brits out of around £8bn a year – that’s £22m a day. The scams can be selling worthless shares, fine wine investments, land, carbon credit certificates or getting money by fooling people they’ve won a foreign lottery and just need to send some administration money to receive their prize.

You’d think nobody would be stupid enough to fall for these schemes. But millions do every year and the victims are mainly the elderly and the vulnerable (recently bereaved, people living on their own, the disabled and so on).

This £8bn is pure theft. It doesn’t include all the crap supposed “investments” we are sold by our banks. For example, we have £58bn in so-called “structured products”. These usually promise to pay say 120% of any rise in the stock market over five years, but guarantee to return all a saver’s money if the stock market falls. Those who put £58bn into these structured products apparently don’t realise that stock markets go up by at most around 1% a year and that almost all the benefits of owning shares come from reinvesting the dividends paid so these compound over time. But with structured products, the saver doesn’t get any benefits from the dividends. The only guarantee with these products is that the saver will get back less than if they had just left their money in a fixed-term savings account, while the banks will make billions. Most of those with their savings in these products are over fifty, with many older than that.

The bottom line is that scammers and banks prey on those who have savings – usually those who are getting on in years. So a necessary but difficult conversation we all need to have with any elderly parents, grandparents or other relatives is: Were do they have their money? How much do they have? Who has been approaching them to get hold of their savings? And have they put any money into schemes which are either scams or just virtually worthless “investments” being flogged by their bank?

This is not an easy conversation to start (for obvious reasons). It makes it look like we’re checking how much we’ll get when they pop their clogs. It’s also difficult as we need to start treating people we looked up to for most of our lives almost as vulnerable children. But if we can have this conversation, it may be one of the best Christmas presents we can give. Happy Christmas.

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