Unfortunately, about 5% of the elderly population (or about 2 to 3 million people) get scammed each year, according to the American Journal of Public Health. And this figure is only based on cases that get reported.
There are multiple reasons why seniors are often the target of scams.
Senior citizens, who have spent entire lifetimes building wealth, typically have larger amounts of money. The current elderly population did not grow up with technology. This can lead to an unfamiliarity with the social norms of the online world and make them more trusting of those that approach them in this environment.Senior citizens may suffer from mental decline or social isolation, making them an easier target.
Most scams targeting seniors are financially-based. Scammers take advantage of the trusting nature of senior citizens to scam them out of both small and large amounts of money. Common financial scams include:
The Grandparent Scam
A scammer will call an elderly person pretending to be their grandchild and sound distressed. They might say they’re in trouble and need money quickly and that they’re embarrassed, so they don’t want the grandparent to say anything to other family members.
There are numerous scams related to Medicare, health insurance, and health care. A scammer may call and ask for personal information for medical identity theft, or attempt to sell subpar services and equipment. Selling fraudulent anti-aging products and counterfeit prescription drugs are also common scams among this group.
Unfortunately, many scams have arisen out of the pandemic. Scammers target seniors and offer “miracle cures” for the virus, or offer bogus vaccines and tests in exchange for money or Medicaid information.
Employment and Romance Scams
These scams are targeted at elderly people who may be searching for a job to make some extra money, or a romantic connection/companion. Scammers offer an easy job opportunity but typically ask for money for “training” first. Alternatively, scammers pretend to be someone they’re not and build a romantic relationship or friendship before asking for money.
These types of scams involve scammers impersonating a financial institution, government agency, or other credible company to gather personal information. They often send links to click on via email or text message, often demanding that you share your information as seemingly required by law. Having an official request information may scare senior citizens into acting quickly, thereby resulting in falling victim to the scam.
Senior citizens may get calls from scammers pretending to offer services for their homes, such as for upgrades or repairs. Scammers gather personal information, such as addresses and credit card information through phone calls, emails, or even door-to-door.
Family Member Scams
Unfortunately, it’s not always a stranger who scams an elderly person. In fact, studies have shown that the majority of elderly scams are carried out by someone close, such as a caregiver or family member. This familiar individual may take advantage of an elderly person and persuade them to transfer or withdraw money, or even steal their debit/credit card. The trusting nature of this age group makes this type of scam all too common nowadays.
Senior citizens on fixed incomes and no longer a part of the workforce, may look to investing to supplement their income. Scammers are now offering “How to Invest” advice centered around digital currency, also known as crypto currency. The scammer lays out what is supposed to be a low risk investment and convinces the senior citizen to “invest” through them to make it easier by sending the scammer the funds to invest on their behalf and unfortunately results in a total loss to the elderly person.
These are common ways scammers target the elderly population. New scams are being created every day. Fortunately, many scams have common themes and warning signs, and by familiarizing yourself with them, you can help protect yourself and your loved ones.
Recognize the Signs of a Scam
Some common signs of a scam include:
- Someone asking for money in unconventional ways: Scammers often ask for money in the form of prepaid gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency. These methods are difficult to track and sometimes it’s impossible to recover funds. Being asked for payment via one of these methods can be a red flag.
- Someone calling or emailing you to verify personal information: Getting an urgent, unexpected request for money is often a sign of a scam. Legitimate organizations will not call you and ask for passwords or other information.
- Promissory, aggressive, or secretive language: Scams that tout “once in a lifetime” opportunities or are overly aggressive, time-sensitive, or asked to be kept a secret.
- Misspelled words: Oftentimes, a written contains grammatical errors and looks unprofessional.
- Asserting authority: Sometimes scammers will impersonate people in authority such as lawyers, police officers, government officials, etc.
- Asking for access to your device or account: Sometimes the scammer will offer to send a link to the victim so they can share screen access under the premise of assisting the victim. This is a way to take control of the device and perform transactions or search for personal information that can be used to commit fraud or theft of the victim’s identity.
Protect Your Loved Ones
Fortunately, there are ways we can protect those we love from falling prey to a scam.
- Share the warning signs of a scam in a caring and empathetic manner. Empower them with prevention tips and never make them feel helpless or defensive.
- Instruct them to never answer phone calls from unknown numbers or respond to unknown emails or text messages. Also, tell them to never let anyone access their computer or phone.
- Set up spam filters on their computers, tablets, and phones.
- Provide respite for their caregiver (or yourself if you are their caregiver). Overworked and stressed individuals are more likely to take advantage of those they are caring for.
- Sign up for identity theft protection. Though senior citizens are often the most targeted, identity theft can happen to anyone. At Lafayette Federal, we offer identity theft protection which includes prevention, detection, and restoration for you and your loved ones.
- Depending on the cognition of the elderly person, considering adding yourself (or another trustworthy individual) as an account manager to their credit cards and accounts to receive notification of any changes or transactions.
If your elderly loved one has been scammed, it’s important to report the fraud to the National Elder Fraud Hotline or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Depending on the scam and what information has been compromised, you may also want to call your local police department and any impacted financial institutions.
As we’ve discussed, elder fraud is rampant and scammers are convincing. It’s best to empower your loved ones with resources and help put in safeguards to protect them from being scammed in the first place.
Partner With a Trusted Financial Advocate Like Lafayette Federal
At Lafayette Federal Credit Union, we know that the rise of online scams puts more and more people at risk of financial fraud every day. We care about our members’ online and financial safety, and our team members are trained to help you spot potential scams or abuse that could harm your financial wellbeing.
If you have concerns about a potential scam or believe you may be a victim to one, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Come into a branch or learn more about protecting your identity online at Lafayette Federal.