Senior Scams and Ways to Avoid Them
Financial fraud is the fastest growing form of elder abuse. Some estimates say that 5.4 percent of older Americans are victims of scams, but this is hard to gauge, as many scams go unreported. According to CNBC, seniors lose $36 billion to financial fraud each year.
To understand the problem, it helps to know why seniors are targeted in the first place. There are numerous reasons why thieves focus their attention on the elderly:
- Seniors are more likely than their younger counterparts to have money set aside
- Many seniors believe that saying “no” to someone is rude
- Many seniors are lonely and are more willing and have more time to listen to a sales spiel
- Seniors tend to be more trusting of others
Here are just some of the scams that scammers use to target the elderly:
This is one of the most common scams and is popular because these scams are very difficult to trace. The caller may suggest that the senior has won a prize or money and they just need a “handling fee” or good faith payment in order to claim their prize. Or they may solicit a charitable contribution after a natural disaster. The best rule of thumb to protect yourself is never purchase anything or give your credit card number or bank account number to an unsolicited caller. If you’re interested and think it may be a legitimate call, research the stated organization and look for accreditation such as checking with Better Business Bureau. Then make a call to the organization yourself to make sure you are speaking with the correct contact.
These scams are particularly dangerous as the email may come from an institution you recognize, such as your bank, your internet service provider or even your alma mater. The email may ask the person to provide private information such as account numbers and passwords. If you receive an email asking for personal information, don’t reply and call the institution to see if the email is legitimate.
The grandparent scam
This scam is so simple, it’s hard to believe it works. Scammers will call their target, pretending to be a grandchild. They will say they’re in some kind of trouble (they’ve been arrested, in an accident or are stuck in a foreign country). They need cash immediately, sent via Western Union or a MoneyGram. Or they may refer the grandparents to an attorney or doctor, who turns out to be an accomplice in the crime. And the last plea from the scammer is “Please don’t tell Mom or Dad!”
How to protect someone you love
There are several things you can do to protect an elderly loved one. As loneliness is a risk factor for being scammed, encourage your loved one to become more social – have them visit their local senior center for events or take them out with you when you go to a movie or out to dinner. Encourage their friends to drop by and check in on occasion. If they’re actively engaged in their community, they’re less likely to engage a scammer, either on the phone or in person.
You can also educate your loved ones about the dangers before they become a victim. While this can be tricky and you don’t want your loved one to be insulted, there are some ways to ease into the conversation. One way is to share your own experience of being scammed (which may or may not be true) and say, “Don’t let this happen to you!” Or invite your loved one to watch this great video with you.
If your loved one does fall victim to a scam, don’t scold them or insult them. Doing so will only make it less likely they will share with you in the future. Instead, let them know that there are millions of others who have experienced the same thing and work with them find ways to ensure it doesn’t happen again.