Sad to say, scams against seniors have grown into a huge industry. Scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they are considered the “crime of the 21st Century”. Many seniors have significant financial resources, many are socially isolated, and many are trusting by nature. This makes them the ideal victims for experienced, professional scammers. A 2015 report by True Link Financial indicated that seniors lose $36.48 billion each year to elder financial abuse.
Financial scams often are unreported, or the perpetrators are difficult to find and prosecute, so they’re considered a “low-risk” crime. But the results can leave the victims financially and emotionally devastated, with little time to recoup their losses.
Here’s a news report with one scam victim’s story:
Myths and Facts About Senior Scams
Below are a few myths and facts about senior scams:
MYTH: I don’t have many financial assets, so I’m not a target for scammers.
FACT: It’s not just wealthy seniors who are victimized – seniors in all economic groups are targeted. Many scams are unreported, so a reported loss of just $20 to scam means there may be annual losses of $2000.
MYTH: The victims of senior scams are mainly those who suffer with memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and social isolation.
FACT: These are indeed some factors that make people vulnerable to scams. But seniors who are well-educated, financially experienced, and highly social are also frequent victims. They tend to meet more people and be more confident in their knowledge and abilities, making them better targets for professional scammers. Even celebrities and high-profile executives have been victims of scams.
MYTH: Scams are mostly perpetrated by strangers, often operating overseas.
FACT: The vast majority of scams result from “trust abuse”, where a relative or caregiver takes advantage of their position of trust to scam the victim. In fact, over 90% of all reported instances of elder abuse are committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their grown children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.
Ten Common Scams
Here are ten of the most common scams perpetrated against seniors:
1. Financial Investment scam: an unscrupulous salesperson convinces a victim to invest in a risky, or outright fraudulent venture, often employing high-pressure sales tactics such as “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity” or “get it before it’s gone”.
2. Charity scam: an unscrupulous charity takes advantage of current national or international crises to request donations. The scammer often relies on memory loss to ask for donations repeatedly from the same victim.
3. Sweepstakes scam: a scammer says the victim has won a huge prize but must send some money in order to claim it. In another version, the scammer claims to have won a prize and offers to share it with the victim, but asks for some money to cover “shipping and handling”.
4. Obituary scam: a scammer views obituaries in the newspaper and attempts to collect nonexistent debts from the survivor of the deceased.
5. Magazine scam: a magazine publisher sends free issues and then claims the victim owes money for the subscription.
6. Medicare scam: a scammer poses as a Medicare or financial representative to obtain a victim’s private information. Or the scammer will provide a simple medical check at a fake clinic and bill Medicare for the service.
7. Shopping scam: a scammer will advertise a product at a low price but later add hidden fees and charges. In an even more insidious version, a scammer will send a counterfeit health product or prescription drug in place of the actual product. The counterfeit product may be useless or even outright dangerous.
8. Sweetheart scam: a scammer “befriends” a senior in order to scam them.
Watch this video to learn more about this common scam:
9. Internet scam: knowing that seniors often spend a lot of time on the Internet, a scammer attempts to obtain their personal information or access their computers using malicious software or fraudulent email.
10. Grandparent scam: a scammer poses as the victim’s child or grandchild in order to get the victim to send money.
The advent of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other popular social media sites has made it much easier for scammers. Scammers now have easy access to many people’s personal information to make their scams appear more credible.
Using data they collect about you from various fan pages, scammers can pretend to be familiar to you in order to gain your trust. Or they join online interest groups and networks, such as school alumni groups. Then they pose as legitimate members of those groups in order to gain members’ trust. Once they establish a relationship with you, they can attempt a variety of scams.
Commonly, they use their relationship with you to promote dubious investment offers. This is known as affinity fraud. Or they could even try to trick you into revealing your personal or financial information to them or sending them money.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Here are some tips to avoid becoming a victim of a scam:
1. Never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call. Never post or send sensitive personal information online or by email. Government agencies such as the Social Security Administration, IRS, or Medicare will never call or email you to ask for personal information.
2. Be careful of what you post on public social media and other websites, knowing that this information is potentially available to scammers.
3. If you receive contact online from someone pretending to be familiar with you, verify the source. Ask others if they’re familiar with that person. Be particularly suspicious of accounts that are new and with little previous activity.
4. Take your time and do your due diligence before sending money to anyone. Make sure the investment, charity, or person on the other end of the phone is legitimate. Don’t fall for high-pressure tactics or emotional appeals.
5. Consult a relative or friend you trust if you’re unsure about a call or offer you received.
6. Only do business with and purchase products from reputable commercial companies. You can view the Better Business Bureau report for a company you’re unsure about. Beware of cut-rate and low-priced products or services. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if a drug or health product you’ve purchased looks suspicious.
Visit the FBI’s senior fraud page for more tips on protecting yourself from fraud.
The SEC’s webpage has information about protecting against affinity fraud.
This scam meter helps you determine whether an offer you’re considering is likely to be a scam.
This risk meter can help you determine whether you have characteristics and behaviors that make you likely to become a fraud victim.
If You’ve Been A Victim
If you, or a senior you’re caring for, have been a victim of a scam, don’t be afraid or ashamed to report it. The scammers are depending on your silence to continue perpetrating their crimes. You may be able to recover some of your lost property, and your action may help prevent others from being victimized.
The AARP Elderwatch page has resources to help report senior fraud.
Thanks to Patricia Sarmiento of publichealthcorps.org for the following links: