We were surprised by the results of our recent mini-poll, when we asked six case workers serving our elder population what they considered the most pressing current problem elders are facing. 3 out of 6 (50%) said, "internet scams". Internet scams?! What’s going on now? What kind of scoundrel would cheat the elderly out of the last of their nest egg?
Case workers tell us that the shameful practice of scamming seniors is on the rise. With the elderly population growing, seniors racked up more than $3 billion in losses this past year. Case workers say that the heart-breaking irony of elder fraud is that seniors are targeted because they tend to be trusting and polite.
Saints to Suckers
Case workers who have their trust tell us that seniors have confided the following additional factors that make them more vulnerable to scoundrels:
- They have financial savings.
- They often own a home.
- They have good credit.
- They are less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how.
- They may be too ashamed at having been scammed.
- They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs.
- And when an elderly victim does report a crime, they may be unable to supply detailed information to investigators.
Each year, the FBI reports that millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme that follow these patterns:
- Romance scam: Criminals pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites to capitalize on their elderly victims’ desire to find companions.
- Tech support scam: Criminals pose as technology support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammers gain remote access to victims’ devices and sensitive information.
- Grandparent scam: Criminals pose as a relative—usually a child or grandchild—claiming to be in immediate financial need.
- Government impersonation scam: Criminals pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.
- Sweepstakes/charity/lottery scam: Criminals claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims’ trust. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can collect for a “fee.”
- Home repair scam: Criminals appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide.
- TV/radio scam: Criminals target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services, such as reverse mortgages or credit repair.
- Family/caregiver scam: Relatives or acquaintances of the elderly victims take advantage of them or otherwise get their money.
How Can We Help Protect This Vulnerable Population?
When the elderly fall prey to one of these scams they often keep it a secret for the reasons described above. Con men rely on this reluctance, and case workers know that getting the word out in advance is their best guard against elder fraud. When the elderly are aware of these frauds in advance, they are unlikely to fall prey.
"I tell my seniors that we all are relatively new to the internet and most of us are vulnerable to one type of scam or other that is targeted at our age group. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Seniors have their vulnerabilities, but so do all age groups. The first line of defense is to recognize that you are vulnerable and need to be diligent by:
- Recognizing scam attempts and ending all communication with the perpetrator.
- Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action.
- Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.
- Never give or send any personal information to unverified people.
- Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don't know, and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you.
- If you believe you have been the victim of elder fraud, contact your local FBI field office immediately.
If it is too good to be true
It isn’t true
If it is too bad to be true
It isn’t true