$1.7 billion: That is how much money seniors aged 60+ lost in scams last year. What is behind the surge in fraudulent cons targeting senior citizens, and how can they protect themselves better? On the other side of the question, what should someone charged with elder fraud do?
The What and the Why
What, exactly, is elder fraud? It is any kind of scam that exploits older people in an attempt to get a hold of their money. It can involve promises of goods and services, cons to get them to help someone in need, identity theft, and more. The elderly are especially delicious targets for unscrupulous scammers for a number of reasons:
- They are more trusting in general, especially in the wake of promises from those who assert they are working in the senior’s best interests;
- They frequently have large savings accounts or own items of value;
- Some have cognitive issues that interfere with their judgment;
- Many are afraid to report crimes after the fact, worried they’ll be viewed as foolish or incompetent.
- They are less proficient with technology, generally speaking.
There are a number of popular scams out there; here are just a few to watch out for:
- Grandparent Scam: A caller claims to be a grandchild in trouble and asks for money to help them out of a pickle.
- Government Worker Imposter Scams: Callers claim to be working for the IRS or some other government agency and are verifying (stealing) personal information.
- Fake Investments: Callers claim to have a fabulous investment opportunity, only to disappear with the money. It could be a false charity, a Ponzi scheme, or any number of scams promising returns that seem too good to be true (and are)!
- Tech Support Scams: Computer screens scream virus attacks, only to get personal information and/or remote access to one’s computer.
- Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams: After claiming the elder has won a huge prize, scammers get their hands on banking information in order to transfer winnings. Surprise—fraudsters clear out accounts this way.
- Love Scams: Pretending to be a great catch who is totally devoted, this scammer gains the affection and confidence of prey and ultimately “borrows” money.
- Funeral Scams: Fraudsters find out where funerals are being held and show up, claiming the deceased owes them money, which the family is now responsible for.
Protecting Seniors from Scams
There is no sure-fire way to protect oneself from scammers, but there are ways to minimize the risk:
- Be suspicious of anyone who wants money or personal information.
- Purchase antivirus software.
- Never give money to someone you do not know.
- Refrain from making impulsive decisions when you are not 100% sure who you are dealing with.
- If you are suspicious, check the facts by looking up the number and making a call to the real phone number of the agency.
- Have accounts monitored.
- Keep lines of communication open with trusted family and friends.