Listening to our older people to help communities tackle fraud

More than 50 per cent of over 65s have been targeted by fraudsters. At Neighbourhood Watch we’re gathering insight into communities, helping us design a scheme for tackling this issue.

The Challenge

Fraud is the most prevalent crime in the UK; you are twice as likely to be a victim of fraud than any other crime, though it is estimated that only 5 per cent of fraud offences are actually reported. When older people are affected by fraud, their losses are more significant, and they have a greater risk of being targeted repeatedly. The consequences for physical and mental health can be severe and long lasting.

At Neighbourhood Watch we saw an opportunity to try to help with this widespread issue, working with our network of volunteers to take a community led approach to tackling fraud. But fraud is a difficult issue to tackle effectively particularly as it is a crime that relies on people being tricked into parting with their money, data or possessions. In some cases people are not aware they have been defrauded or are reluctant to admit it and seek help.

We therefore sought to develop and test a small-scale model for building fraud resilience, and received funding from the Connected Communities Innovation Fund. We wanted to understand what really works for communities in terms of preventative advice and tools to help protect themselves against fraudsters. We needed to involve older people in designing the service we were hoping to offer, to better understand these issues, particularly how to encourage people to share their experiences and remove the stigma associated with fraud.

We started work with service designers Snook and began our journey of capturing insight, developing prototypes and testing potential solutions.

What we found out

Interviews and workshops with older people affected by or concerned about fraud enabled an understanding of the issue from the community’s perspective.

“I started receiving the scam mail after my son, then husband died. I was quite lonely and was really pleased at first. It said I won some money, so I did as it said and sent off a cheque, but I never got the money. I felt foolish but my neighbours helped me and now I get lots of mail through, but I rip it up”

Project Interviewee

Interviews revealed the stigma associated with fraud, many people hide the fact they have been scammed out of fear of looking foolish or unable to cope, which is a huge barrier to uncovering and tackling the issue.

But this also suggests the potential power of communities to overcome it. When so many of us know someone who has been affected by fraud; having conversations with friends, family and neighbours can have widespread impact, helping to remove stigma, spread information and provide a listening ear.

What we are doing

Example toolkit sticker

From the insight gathered, via workshops and interviews with Neighbourhood Watch volunteers and older people, we’ve developed a variety of tools for engagement to enable a community powered response to tackling fraud. For example, a “talk about fraud” toolkit, a friendly and easy to read guide to scams, encouraging readers to speak up if they have any concerns.

The toolkit includes stickers with prompts written on them that help people with what to say when they receive unwanted telephone calls or doorstep callers to place strategically around the home.

This approach is being trialled in the Buckinghamshire village of Cheddington, where Neighbourhood Watch volunteers are being trained to advise and encourage older people (65+) to better protect themselves from fraudsters as well as give practical and emotional support to those affected. This engagement is through a variety of methods, from one to one conversations to group sessions and coffee mornings. One of the volunteers talked about how the project is helping older people through its inclusivity:

“The project gives them the confidence to ask someone and report a potential scam. We have turned it into a community topic so it doesn’t matter how old you are, everyone is talking about it”

Gail Steed, Project Volunteer

Attendees at group sessions have stated they feel empowered and are spreading the word to other friends and relatives helping them to become more fraud aware; it has tapped into an important area of work. As a result of our volunteers raising community awareness of the signs and symptoms of these sorts of crimes, some Cheddington residents are starting to share concerns with them about their own neighbours who may be being targeted by fraudsters.

Doorstep visit providing advice

What we’ve learnt so far

Giving volunteers real say in shaping the programme

Volunteers were involved in workshops to design the toolkit and forms of community engagement the programme should include. They are now taking a leading role in the testing phase of the programme. By giving volunteers responsibility and ownership they have taken the programme into their own hands. They have developed different approaches to engaging their local residents in combating fraud that work for them and their local community. We are continuing to identify different groups of people that may benefit from the project or be willing to support it – led by feedback from our volunteers about how their own networks may help to grow and extend the impact of the project i.e. People living in care homes or managing the and the U3A and WI networks.

Capturing insight is an ongoing journey

We gained a lot of insight from the first stages of research during service design, however the insight gathering doesn’t stop there. Developing this programme is an iterative process, we are continuously holding focus groups and seeking feedback from partners, volunteers and members of the community as we develop the key strands to the programme. The toolkit, training and methods for engagement are being tested and further developed based on the insight from the testing phase to ensure the right model for building fraud resilience, which is sustainable for the volunteers involved and delivers real impact, is then extended to new areas to help protect and support many more people.

Helping the existing fraud prevention, advice and support services work holistically

We’ve established links with key partners such as Trading Standards, Police and banks. By doing this we’ve identified how untapped resources within the community – and particularly within the Neighbourhood Watch Network – can supplement police fraud prevention activity and signpost to fraud prevention advice by Community Bankers. Our partnership with the National Trading Standards Scams Team has identified how this project can work in conjunction with their Scam Marshalls for mutual benefit; providing a local community support infrastructure for the Scam Marshalls and adding a really personal perspective of the impact of fraud to assist with training and awareness raising by our volunteers. Taking a user centred approach has helped us join these dots within the system and we are continuing to identify further opportunities as the project progresses.

Having a prop for discussion

We’ve found having physical printed resources really helpful, particularly the leaflet, stickers and calling cards. They increase volunteer confidence to engage with others by acting as a prop to start discussion. By leaving these with people they then have information to hand that they can use to refresh their memories in the event that they have concerns about fraudulent telephone calls, letters, e-mails or doorstep callers in the future. The resources and calling cards have been identified as useful to leave in areas where older people may frequent and have time to peruse them, such a GP surgeries and churches.

If you want more...

Thanks for reading! This blog is part of our Field Notes series, highlighting a different social innovator each month with their lessons from the frontline of innovation in citizen participation.


Jayne Pascoe

Head of Partnerships and Projects with the Neighbourhood Watch Network that works with police forces across England and Wales.