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.

s.read@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @simonnread

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
The illusionist believes hypnotism helped him to deal with the lack of control he felt growing up
people'It’s not that people react badly to it – they really don't care'
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
gaming
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: PR, Marketing & Events Executive - Southwark, London - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: PR Marketing & Events Exe...

    Selby Jennings: C++ Developer – Hedge Fund – New York

    $80000 - $110000 per annum, Benefits: Bonus and Employee Investment Scheme: Se...

    Selby Jennings: Java Developer Enterprise Specialist –Paris,France

    €30000 - €50000 per annum, Benefits: Competitive Bonus: Selby Jennings: Java D...

    Selby Jennings: QA Engineer Lead – Hedge Fund – Chicago

    $60000 - $90000 per annum, Benefits: Competitive Bonus and Employee Investment ...

    Day In a Page

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible