Senior fraud has become such a prevalent issue, that the National Council on Aging describes it as “the crime of the 21st century.” Multiple studies have found that financial senior fraud averages approximately $3 billion in losses annually.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) explains that many criminals target seniors because they tend to be trusting, have financial savings, typically own a home or other asset, and have good credit. In addition, many seniors can be forgetful and experience memory issues and not be as tech-savvy in the digital world.
Sadly, over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.
Most common senior scams
The FBI, the National Council on Aging, and Consumer Reports has outlined various fraud schemes and tactics in order to help seniors and their family members or friends become more aware of such crimes and better learn how to prevent them.
- How do they do it? Scammer will pose as a representative from legitimate charitable organizations or various associations and will ask for a donation or contribution. Scammer will also pose as representative from a lottery association and will ask victims for a sum of money in order to “unlock their prize.”
- How do they do it? Scammer will pose as relative claiming to be in dire financial need. Most will have a starting line like this, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” After victim responds, the scammer will go along with the story line, ultimately requesting a check to obtain their bank information.
- How do they do it? There are many different ways scammers can use the phone to trick seniors. One way is known as the fake accident ploy, where a scammer will call and claim that the victim’s family member is hurt and needs money. Another method is known as the pigeon drop, where the scammer likely poses as a lawyer or banker and tells the victim that they found a large sum of money to split with them, but they need a “good faith payment” first.
- How do they do it? When on the phone, also be aware of government impersonators and scammers posing as representatives from Medicare or a health insurance organization. The scammer will ask for personal information in order to “continue their benefits” or threaten the victim with prosecution of a false crime and demand funds to reconcile it.
- How do they do it? Scammers will create illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services. The most common services they will claim to help with are homeowners’ insurance/reverse mortgage, investments, fraudulent anti-aging products and home repair. Be cautious—some scammers will physically go to the home of a victim and point out home improvement needs, ask for an initial check, and then never perform the services.
- How do they do it? Many seniors are going to the Internet to find savings on prescription medications—many scammers will post counterfeit prescription drugs online, scamming victims not only for their money, but potentially physically harming them in the process.
- How do they do it? In addition, scammers can pose as a romantic interest to the victim on a social or dating site, creating a personal connection with the victim and then asking for money.
- How do they do it? There are also email and phishing scams where a victim receives an email or attachment asking them to update or verify personal information with a link. This can appear to be from the IRS, tech-support, or a fraudulent virus-protective company. Once the victim clicks the links, the scammer now has access to the victim’s computer and personal information.
Funeral and cemetery
- How do they do it? Scammer will read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service and tell grieving widow/widower or other family member that the deceased had outstanding debts with them. In addition, a funeral director or other representative will take advantage of family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill.
Why don’t victims of fraud report it?
Although the crime is growing, Consumer Reports has estimated that only one in 44 victims actually report the crime, perpetuating the situation even more.
Many seniors do not report the crimes because they don’t know how to report it, are embarrassed and worried that relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs, or memory loss impairs the victim to remember the detailed information about the crime.
Tips for seniors to avoid scams
- When receiving a suspicious phone call or online inquiry, make sure to ask the representative for their full name, title and association with their claimed organization and more. Either call the organization directly about the individual or search online for contact information.
- Do not act quickly. A scammer will try to create a sense of urgency to incite victims to act immediately; make sure to stay calm and gather all necessary information before doing anything.
- Never give any personally identifiable information and financial information (bank account numbers, checks, money wiring transfers) to unverified individuals or businesses.
- Ensure your computer is installed with up-to-date anti-virus and security software protection. If you need assistance with the installation, make sure to go to a legitimate and verified business in order to do so and speak with a representative from there. While on the computer, never click a link, attachment or pop-up from an unknown source.
- Call the police if you feel there is real danger to you or to a loved one.
Tips for family members or friends to keep their senior safe
- Regularly call or visit.
- Block phone solicitations and make sure anti-virus protectants are installed on computer.
- Set up safeguards at the bank.
- Arrange for limited account oversight.
How to Report
The FBI states, “if you believe you or someone you know may have been a victim of elder fraud, contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.”