Simon Read: We have to find a way to stop unscrupulous rogues from exploiting vulnerable older people


My eye was caught by a shocking news story this week involving an older person being tricked out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

An 88-year-old suffering from dementia was persuaded to sell his home for almost half-price by an estate agent who seized a chance to make a quick buck.

The victim was Owen Hill, who lived in upmarket St John's Wood in north London. He had responded to one of those dodgy letters estate agents force through our letterboxes claiming that buyers are interested in our home.

When the estate agent asked him how much he wanted to sell his mews house for, Mr Hill, who has since died, said £1m as he had no real idea of the value of it.

The estate agent did, of course, and got his property developer brother-in-law to offer £1m there and then over the phone, which Mr Hill accepted.

In fact the house was worth almost twice as much and the two men clearly hoped to trouser a massive profit on the deal. Their plan only failed when Mr Hill told neighbours about the sale.

They knew the real value of the property and called in lawyers to stop the deal being completed. When the house was sold after Mr Hill's death last year, it went for £1.8m.

It turns out that the move is well known in estate agent circles. Insiders say that dodgy agents will ask a seller how much they want for a property and, if it is markedly below the market price, arrange to buy it there and then.

We expect habitual criminals to be always on the hunt for the chance to make these sorts of cons. But what makes a previously law-abiding person – as far as I know – turn to crime? The story centres on the fact that the estate agent was handed an opportunity to exploit an older, seemingly alone person and took it.

The agent had been invited into his victim's home. In short he was a trusted individual. Betraying that trust is despicable. The penalty for doing so should be extremely harsh.

Interestingly it was the actions of neighbours which helped bring the problem to light. It's easy for all of us to forget at times about older people who live nearby but keeping regular contact – or popping in for a chat – can not only help to ease their loneliness but may also ensure they avoid becoming a financial victim.

While I was still pondering these thoughts, a letter coincidentally arrived from a reader headed "More ways to cheat gullible oldies!"

In the letter, 80-year-old widow DC told me how she was recently almost twice cheated out of thousands of pounds by smooth-talking salesmen.

The first "told me my solar panels were out of date and needed repairing," she wrote. "I believed him and he left with a deposit cheque for £1,737.50."

Luckily her brother learnt of the sale and pointed out that, at 80, DC probably wouldn't live long enough to benefit from the long-term returns that solar panels generate. They acted quickly enough to cancel the cheque and "to no surprise the salesman hasn't been back in touch!"

Another salesman was "equally suave", according to DC, "and left with a cheque for £2,450, the cost of setting up a trust on my property so the local authority couldn't claim the sales proceeds should I go into a care home".

Filled with doubts after he left, DC contacted her solicitor who told her such a trust wouldn't be accepted by the local authority. In short it was a total waste of money. After a short letter, the cheque was returned.

Thanks for writing in, DC. I'm glad that in both cases you were able to get your money back. But may your experience serve as a lesson for others.

The more we share the stories of scammers, the more we can help each other learn about their techniques. And thus armed with such knowledge, we may be able to avoid falling into the clutches of despicable conmen so easily.

Twitter: @simonnread

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

    Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

    £70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

    Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

    £23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

    Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

    £13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific