Habitually lonely people are four times more likely to fall victims of scammers than those who do not feel isolated, according to new research.
The study, conducted by Nationwide, also reveals that a disproportionate number are willing to trust strangers to feel accepted, whether in person or online.
Loneliness and social isolation are highlighted as a common feeling that touches around four in five of the adult population during their lives but while feelings of loneliness are generally short-lived, lasting less than a week for around half of people, more than one in 10 endure bouts of loneliness for more than a year – equating to around 4.6 million people across the UK.
The national survey, which polled 2,000 respondents, suggests that seven per cent of the UK could suffer loneliness on a continuing basis with more than a third of this group falling victim to fraud. This compares to fewer than one in ten of those who do not consider themselves lonely.
Loneliness can lead to other problems, impacting health and well-being, and might also compel someone to develop relationships with people who could take advantage, potentially leading to exploitation by fraudsters and increasing chances of financial abuse.
Nationwide is signed up to the national industry-wide Take Five anti-fraud campaign3 to help educate people about scams. The building society has also established a Specialist Support Service to help customers in vulnerable circumstances manage their finances.
Nationwide’s campaign is being supported by Falklands War veteran Simon Weston, who has experienced social isolation.
He said: “As someone who understands the feeling of being lonely and struggling to fit in with society, it’s easy to see how vulnerable people can fall into financial scams as they are much more likely to seek acceptance or friendship. My journey is far from ordinary and has been difficult. But I have found ways to overcome loneliness by reaching out to my family and friends. It is also about seeking support when you need it, such as getting help with sorting out your finances at a time when life might be getting in the way. Recognising that I am not alone in what I am going through has made a big difference.”
Chad Rogerson, Nationwide’s Head of Customer Vulnerability and Diversity, added: “Loneliness is often invisible and isn’t uniquely felt by older people or those who are bereaved. As our research shows, those who do feel socially isolated are more willing to respond to someone they don’t know on social media or via email, actively be on dating sites and strike up conversations with strangers.
“While human contact is essential and should be encouraged, particularly where feelings of isolation are involved, we’d always urge people to be mindful of the risk of falling victim to a scam. Nationwide is focussed on protecting customers through offering supportive services but also in putting our weight behind industry-wide efforts such as the Take Five anti-fraud campaign. It is only by working together than we can make a real difference.”