Lonely people four times more likely to be scammed by fraudsters

2 March 2017

  • National research highlights link between feeling lonely and susceptibility to scams
  • Eight in ten have experienced isolation with one in ten lonely for a period of a year or more
  • Younger people just as susceptible to feeling lonely despite having far more ‘digital friends’
  • Nationwide’s loneliness campaign supported by Falklands War veteran Simon Weston

People who feel habitually lonely are four times more likely to become victims of scams than those who do not feel isolated, with research revealing a disproportionate number are willing to trust strangers to feel accepted – whether in person or online.

Nationwide’s research1 highlights loneliness and social isolation as a common feeling that touches around four in five (79%) of the adult population at varying points in their lives. However, while feelings of loneliness are generally short-lived, lasting less than a week for half (50%) of people, more than one in ten (12%) endure bouts of loneliness for more than a year – equating to around 4.6 million people2 across the UK.

The national survey, which polled 2,000 respondents, suggests that seven per cent of the UK could be suffer loneliness on an ongoing basis – defined as always feeling disconnected or isolated from society. According to the research, more than a third (36%) of this group have fallen victim to fraud. This compares to fewer than one in ten (9%) of those who do not consider themselves lonely.

While feeling lonely is a normal emotion, it can lead to other problems, impacting health and wellbeing. Loneliness 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. The poll shows one in ten (10%) people who admitted to being lonely all of the time believe their they are more susceptible to scams.

Nationwide, which recognises the potential correlation between loneliness and fraud, is signed up to the national industry-wide Take Five anti-fraud campaign3 to help educate people about scams. The Society has also established a Specialist Support Service to help customers in vulnerable circumstances manage their finances.

Falklands War veteran Simon Weston, who has experienced social isolation, is supporting Nationwide’s campaign.

Simon Weston 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.”

Reasons for loneliness:
The research highlights a number of reasons for feeling lonely or socially isolated. The top five included:

  • Lack of confidence (29%)
  • Depression (27%)
  • Finding it difficult to make friends (24%)
  • Being introverted (23%)
  • Finding it difficult to find a kindred spirit (15%)

Common scams:
According to the poll, the five most common types of scams affecting those who are always lonely are:

  • Romance scams (16%)
  • Lottery or prize draw scams (16%)
  • Energy-saving scams (15%)
  • Clairvoyance scams (10%)
  • ‘419’ scams (9%)

Lonely hearts and minds:

  • Those who describe themselves as habitually lonely are far more likely to respond to strangers on social media than those who are not lonely, with 13 per cent of respondents admitting to doing this.
  • More than one in ten (12%) of this group are more likely to spark up conversation with strangers.
  • Eleven per cent of those who say they are always lonely believe they are more likely to be exploited.
  • Some 12 per cent of this group use dating sites to connect to others rather than necessarily looking for love. This could be one of the reasons why the research shows two of the most common types of scams affecting constantly lonely people are romance and clairvoyance fraud (16% and 10% respectively).


  • On average, Britons have 65 friends online compared to just 14 ‘traditional’ friends.
  • A quarter (25%) of British adults spend more time interacting on social media than in person. However, this rises to nearly two thirds (65%) of those describing themselves as always lonely.
  • This leads those who are habitually lonely to have more ‘digital’ than ‘physical’ friends – with 60 per cent claiming this to be the case, compared to around one in ten (11%) of those who are not lonely.
  • Just under one in ten (8%) go a week without seeing a friend, while six per cent of respondents claim to have no friends – which would equate to just over three million people4 across the UK.

Young and alone:

  • Despite the view that loneliness mainly affects older people, with ONS data showing half (51%) of those aged 75 and older live alone, the research reveals those aged 18-34 reported higher levels of having experienced loneliness (89%) compared to those aged 55 and over (70%).
  • Twice as many people in the 18-34 age bracket said that they were habitually lonely than those aged 55 plus, at eight per cent compared to four per cent.
  • Thirty per cent of those aged 18-34 attributed their loneliness to not being able to make new friends, compared to just a fifth (20%) of those aged 55 and over.
  • While those aged 18-34 have an average of more than 100 online friends (103) - around four times the amount of those 55 and above. The younger age group has just five more ‘traditional’ friendships than the older generation, at 17 compared to 12.

Chad Rogerson, Nationwide’s Head of Customer Vulnerability and Diversity, said: “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.”

Notes to Editor:

• Video featuring Simon Weston is available on request

1 The poll of 2,000 UK adults was carried out by Opinium, between 27-31 January 2017.
2 Calculation: 9% of 51,339,000 (UK adult population/source: ONS mid-2015 estimates) = 4,620,050.
3 FFA’s Take Five campaign can be viewed at: www.takefive-stopfraud.org.uk.
4 Calculation: 6% of 51,339,000 (UK adult population – source above) = 3,080,340.

• Specialist Support Service: The service launched in October 2015, initially in response to Macmillan Cancer Support’s 2014 Counting on Your Support Report1, which set out nine recommendations to the financial industry to ease the financial impact of cancer. Nationwide has continued to enhance the service to encompass those affected by other life-limiting situations, mental health, and now vulnerability through social isolation.

About Nationwide

Nationwide is the world's largest building society as well as one of the largest savings providers and a top-three provider of mortgages in the UK. It is also a major provider of current accounts, credit cards, ISAs and personal loans. Nationwide has around 15 million customers.

Customers can manage their finances in a branch, via the mobile app, on the telephone, internet and post. The Society has around 18,000 employees. Nationwide's head office is in Swindon with administration centres based in Northampton, Bournemouth and Dunfermline. The Society also has a number of call centres across the UK.

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