As technology becomes ever more sophisticated, protecting the people we love against elder fraud becomes more and more critical. Today, senior citizen scams are a multi-billion-dollar scourge. In 2021 alone, FBI data cites 92,371 cases of senior citizen scams resulting in $1.7 billion in losses. This was a 74% increase in losses compared to 2020.1 The ongoing threat is relentless, so helping protect your loved one from being scammed can’t wait.
Seniors are perfects scam targets
Seniors are perceived to have two of the qualities scammers value most: money and technological naivete. According to Consumeraffairs.com, the median individual loss to elder fraud breaks down by age like this: 60-69, $600; 70-79, $800; 80 and over, $1,600.
Scammers prey on politeness and trust. They know that seniors come from a time of telephone etiquette when every call was from a real person, most of whom they knew. So, a senior’s default response is trust. The challenge is knowing how to warn your elderly parent and how to prevent them from being victims of elder fraud.
How to identify a likely scam
Today, scammers are so good that it is often difficult to tell a scam call from a legitimate call. Below are just a few of the most common financial scams targeting senior citizens.
- Government impersonation scams
Urgent calls from the IRS, Social Security, or Medicare demanding any kind of payment, identification numbers, account numbers, etc. are always, without exception, 100% a scam. Even if the caller ID identifies the caller as being from a government agency. Scammers can “spoof” almost any caller ID they want.
Any incoming call from a government agency should be treated with suspicion. Never give out any information unless you have initiated the call.
- Lottery scams
“Congratulations, you’ve won $250,000. To claim your prize, just pay this one-time processing fee.” It’s rarely as stark as that, but anything that sounds too good to be true, almost certainly is. And it’s not just lotteries. People posing as officials from Publisher’s Clearing House and other well-known sweepstakes are also favorite scams.
- Robocall scams
These are especially insidious, using sophisticated, automated technology most seniors don’t even know exists. In one common example, the caller asks the victim, “Can you hear me?” When the person answers “Yes,” the scammer records their voice and hangs up. That voice signature can then be used to rack up charges on stolen credit cards.
Other phone scams involve threats of lawsuits or even arrest if a “fine” is not paid immediately. Fear can make seniors as just vulnerable as trust.
- Computer tech scams
Again, taking advantage of a senior’s lack of tech savvy, scammers plant a pop-up warning on a victim’s computer. It’s some version of “a virus or a hack has been identified, call this number to fix it.” Scammers then request remote access to the victim’s computer. Once in, thay have access to all kinds of devastating personal and financial information.
This is increasingly commonplace, creating catastrophic losses. In 2021, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) fielded 13,900 tech support fraud complaints from older victims who suffered nearly $238 million in losses. 1
- The grandparent scam
“Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?” Grandma guesses a name and the scammer instantly takes on that persona and secures her trust. Then the fake grandchild asks for money to solve some urgent financial problem. One red flag (aside from the nature of the call itself) is if they want to be paid via gift card or money transfer, which don’t always require identification to collect.
Other versions of this scam involve callers posing as police officers, doctors, or lawyers trying to help the grandchild.
How to reduce the risk of getting scammed
There seems to be no limit, no bottom to the creative depravity out there. There are heartbreaking romance scams, ruthless investment scams, callous miracle-cure scams, crypto scams, and all manner of internet and e-mail fraud. Here are some smart tips to share with your loved one to help them from being scammed, regardless of what new scams are popping up:
- Let unknown callers go to voicemail. If they leave a message, then you can decide if it’s legitimate or not.
- Guard personal data jealously. There is no good reason to give out any personal or financial data to a caller.
- Don’t be afraid to be rude. These callers are not your friends, and you can’t hurt their feelings. Be assertive.
- Be wary. This is not meant to make people paranoid, just to remind seniors and their adult children the importance of staying alert.
- Shred. Shred. For less than $50 you can buy a shredder to destroy any unwanted mail or other documents that could be used to scam you.
- Get on a Do Not Call List. Sign up, also take your name off multiple mailing lists.
- Don’t be ashamed. Scams are designed to take advantage of a person’s trusting good nature. If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam, contact the FBI or the U.S. Secret Service, and online at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at http://www.ftc.gov. If appropriate, call your financial institution, or call the Eldercare Locator hotline at 1-800-677-1116.
- 2021 Elder Fraud Report. Federal Bureau of investigation. Found on the internet at https://wwww.ic3.gov/Media/PDF/AnnualReport/2021_IC3ElderFraudReport.pdf