As our loved ones age, it is our responsibility to keep them safe and secure. As they grow older, they may become more vulnerable to financial exploitation, especially by scammers who target them with fraudulent schemes. Elder scams have become a widespread problem, affecting seniors across the globe.
What Are Elder Scams?
Elder scams are schemes that target older individuals, aiming to defraud them of their money, property, or assets. These scams come in various forms, but they all share a common goal: to trick seniors into giving away their money or personal information. According to the FBI, elder scams cost Americans over $3 billion each year, making them a significant threat to the financial wellbeing of older adults.
Most Common Types of Elder Scams
Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
In this type of scam, seniors receive a call or email informing them that they have won a large sum of money in a lottery or sweepstakes. However, before they can claim their prize, they must pay a fee to cover taxes, processing, or shipping. The scammers often ask for payment in the form of gift cards, wire transfers, or personal checks. Once the senior sends the money, the scammers disappear, and the prize never materializes.
Tech Support Scams
In this scam, seniors receive a phone call or pop-up message on their computer, informing them that their device has a virus or malware. The scammers pretend to be tech support professionals and convince the seniors to grant them remote access to their computer. Once the scammers have access, they can steal personal information or install malware that allows them to control the computer remotely.
Scammers often target seniors with Medicare scams, where they pose as Medicare representatives and try to obtain the senior's personal information, including their social security number. They may also promise to provide equipment, such as a wheelchair or hearing aid, for free, but only after the senior provides personal information.
Scammers sometimes use dating websites or social media platforms to target seniors who are looking for companionship. They create fake profiles, gain the senior's trust, and then ask for money for various reasons, such as a medical emergency, travel expenses, or a business venture. Once the senior sends the money, the scammer disappears.
Investment scams target seniors who are looking for ways to increase their income or retirement savings. The scammers may offer fake investment opportunities, promising high returns with little or no risk. They may also pose as financial advisors or brokers and convince seniors to invest in fake stocks, bonds, or other financial instruments.
Family Trouble Scams
One common tactic used in elder scams is to claim that a family member is in trouble and needs money immediately. Scammers may pretend to be a grandchild, niece, or nephew and claim that they have been arrested, injured, or are in some other kind of trouble. They will then ask the elderly person to wire money or purchase gift cards to help them out of their situation. This can be a particularly effective tactic as many seniors want to help their loved ones in need and may act quickly without taking the time to verify the story. It is essential to remind our elderly loved ones to be cautious and to verify any such claims with other family members before sending any money or personal information.
Impact of Elder Scams
Elder scams can have a devastating impact on seniors and their families. Seniors who fall victim to scams may lose their life savings, leaving them unable to pay for their basic needs, such as housing, healthcare, and food. They may also suffer from depression, anxiety, and a loss of trust in others. Family members may feel guilty for not preventing the scam and may face financial or emotional burdens when trying to help their loved ones recover from the fraud.
Preventing Elder Scams
There are several steps we can take to protect our loved ones from becoming victims of elder scams.
Educate Them About Scams
One of the best ways to prevent elder scams is to educate seniors about the different types of scams and how to recognize them. Talk to your loved ones about the common red flags of scams, such as requests for personal information, unsolicited phone calls
or emails, and pressure to act quickly. Encourage them to be skeptical of unsolicited offers or requests and to seek advice from trusted friends or family members before making any financial decisions.
Monitor Their Financial Activity
If you are responsible for the financial wellbeing of an elderly loved one, it is essential to monitor their financial activity regularly. Look for any unusual transactions or withdrawals from their accounts and investigate any unfamiliar charges. Set up alerts for suspicious activity, such as large purchases or unusual transactions, and review their credit report annually to ensure that no new accounts or loans have been opened in their name without their knowledge.
Limit Their Exposure to Scams
Limiting your loved one's exposure to scams can help reduce their risk of becoming a victim. Encourage them to opt-out of telemarketing calls and to be cautious when sharing personal information online. Consider placing their phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry, which can help reduce the number of unwanted telemarketing calls they receive. Teach them to use privacy settings on social media platforms to limit who can see their information and to be wary of unsolicited friend requests or messages.
Stay Involved in Their Lives
Staying involved in your loved ones’ lives can help reduce their risk of falling victim to elder scams. Regularly check in with them and make sure they have someone to talk to about any concerns or issues they may have. Encourage them to participate in social activities or volunteer work to help reduce their isolation and loneliness, which can make them more vulnerable to scams.
Elder scams are a significant threat to the financial wellbeing and emotional health of our senior family members. By educating them about the different types of scams and taking steps to prevent them, we can help reduce their risk of becoming victims. If you suspect that your loved one has fallen victim to a scam, contact your local law enforcement agency. Together, we can help protect our seniors from financial exploitation and ensure that they can live their lives with dignity and security.