How community nurses are on the frontline against financial scammers

"Victims often feel embarrassed, angry and deeply distressed. This anxiety is damaging to both physical and mental health. Community nurses have the knowledge, skills and compassion to support recovery"

Being scammed can be the last straw for some. Cheating people out of money they can ill-afford to lose can result in being unable to buy food or pay the bills – and can even lead to homelessness. Fraudsters can also wreak emotional and psychological havoc upon vulnerable members of our communities. It especially hurts those already struggling with loneliness or isolation.

The resulting sense of shame and helplessness undermines both trust and self-confidence among the victims of financial abuse. It can be the event that tips someone from independent living into residential care.

It is shocking to realise that scamming and other forms of financial abuse are among the UK’s ‘growth industries’, estimated to cost victims tens of billions of pounds each year. Face to face robbery is increasingly replaced by stealing money by post, telephone or on-line, as well as unscrupulous tradespeople exploiting vulnerable people at their own doorsteps.

Fraudsters act to hurt vulnerable adults by stealing their money, their health and their sense of dignity. Community nurses try to safeguard those in their care

When most people think about scamming, they understandably see it as a matter for the police, consumer protection groups and trading standards. While each play a crucial role, they mostly intervene after the fact and focus on the financial side of the abuse.

Few have considered the important roles of community-based nurses – including (until recently) nurses themselves. Thanks to important work by Prof Keith Brown and Dr Sally Lee at Bournemouth University, there are now very helpful resources for community nurses to extend their safeguarding work to include scamming and related financial abuse of adults who, for a variety of reasons, are particularly vulnerable to being cheated.

DID YOU KNOW…

Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.

With the support of the Burdett Trust for Nursing, the resources from Bournemouth University have been rolled out in Scotland through an event hosted by the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland (QNIS). Together, with colleagues from agencies across Scotland we are unleashing the potential of community-based nurses to both prevent this type of abuse and help victims overcome the harm.

After all, district nurses, mental health nurses, GP nurses and care home nurses are the ones who often are in the closest, most regular and most trusted relationships with the those most likely to become victims of scamming.

As citizens we all look out for our family and neighbours. Social isolation is the most important factor that leaves someone vulnerable to scamming. Community nurses can assist in preventing financial abuse by helping overcome the loneliness and isolation that often lead vulnerable adults into becoming fraud victims. For example, this can happen by connecting people into local groups and other sources of support. Community nurses are also on-hand to see the signs of a scam getting started – and help nip it in the bud.

Equally important, community nurses can do something about the harm to health and wellbeing caused by financial abuse. Victims often feel embarrassed, angry and deeply distressed. This anxiety is damaging to both physical and mental health. Community nurses have the knowledge, skills and compassion to support recovery.

The Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland recently surveyed Scottish community nurses. Nearly 300 completed the survey. 91 per cent agreed that a large proportion of the people in their care are vulnerable to scamming. And, while only 8 per cent thought they are already properly informed and fully prepared to help, 93 per cent are keen to know and do more.

The statistics are startling, but the potential for community-based nurses to help is enormous.

Fraudsters act to hurt vulnerable adults by stealing their money, their health and their sense of dignity. Community nurses try to safeguard those in their care. QNIS is equipping nurses to push back against those who seek to harm some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Work with us and our partner agencies and stay alert to potential scams.

Prof Clare Cable is the Chief Executive and Nurse Director of the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland