Older people are less likely to complain about banking problems and are more likely to be targeted by scams and fraud.

First time demographic research by the Banking Ombudsman has found just 4 per cent of its complaints in the last six months have come from people aged 70 and over despite that age-group representing 12 per cent of the total population.

Ombudsman Nicola Sladden said some of the reason for the low number could be because family members complained on their behalf but anecdotal evidence suggested older people had a greater risk of being targeted because they were home more often, may live alone and had money in the bank.

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"We receive a number of complaints involving the financial affairs of older people some of which are unique to that demographic involving elder abuse."

Sladden said people's increasing reliance on others as they got older could put them at risk of financial abuse from either family members, friends or others.

That included miss-use or theft from someone's bank account.

While banks have a responsibility to keep an eye out for fraud and financial abuse it was equally up to individuals to be aware of it, she said.

"It's about being prepared and planning ahead."

When people think about retirement planning they often think it just about saving money but it is far more involved than that.

She said people needed to plan for what would happen to their finances should they be less physically active, lose eyesight, no longer able to drive a car or have cognitive impairment.

She said the first important step was to have an enduring power of attorney in place - that gives an appointed person the ability to make decisions for you about your property and assets if you are unable to do so.

Sladden said older people could also set up safeguards and systems to protect themselves.

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If people can't physically get to a branch they could consider phone banking or doing it online either on a computer or downloading an app to their phone.

They can also grant the legal power to access their accounts to someone else to allow that person to do banking on their behalf.

She said if people do that they need to make sure it is someone they trust and can also set up a safeguard by having a third party who will also receive their banking information and provide a check and balance on what is happening with the accounts.

Banking ombudsman Nicola Sladden. Photo/Mark Mitchell.
Banking ombudsman Nicola Sladden. Photo/Mark Mitchell.

Likewise it was important for people to let their bank know who they have authorised to access their accounts and to get in touch with them if there are any concerns about someone abusing that access.

Sladden said banks should act if they notice a customer maybe a victim of financial abuse or fraud.

"The banks have invested a significant amount in training front line staff to be alert to the red flags of fraud and to act on it when they find it."

But she said not everyone listened to their bank.

"I have seen a case where a bank a warned someone about a fraud but the person has continued to transfer money."

Sladden said online dating scams could be particularly bad for that.

"I do think fraud cases are increasing."

David Boyle, head of investment education at the Commission for Financial Capability said older people could be more at risk to scams because many were no longer working and had no way to recoup lost savings.

If you are not working it is very hard to recuperate that loss.

Boyle said protecting your assets once accumulated was really important for people in retirement.

But he said it was a challenge for people to stay ahead of scams.

"These people are getting cleverer and smarter. It is very sophisticated."

How to protect yourself from financial abuse and scams

• Have a plan in place should you lose mental or physical capacity to manage your affairs
• Set up an enduring power of attorney
• Appoint someone you trust to help manage your accounts and a third party to help monitor account activity
• If an investment looks too good to be true it probably is
• If transferring funds via the internet make sure the recipient is the right person - some people have had their emails hacked and get fake emails from people posing as their friends or family asking for money.
• If you are feeling pressure or you think a family member is being pressured into giving access to their accounts contact the bank to seek advice on how to manage the situation
• If people think they have been scammed contact the bank straight away, also contact the Department of Consumer Affairs and talk to a trusted person about it.