Scamming the elderly is an up-and-coming source of income for criminals and hackers. As a matter of fact, a Bloomberg news report stated that elderly fraud is costing America’s seniors more than $36 billion per year. That’s ten times the net worth of Donald Trump.
Fortunately, identifying these scams isn’t difficult once you know what to look for. As a proactive caregiver, you can protect your parents or loved ones from elderly fraud. Let’s take a look at the top scams used to fleece the elderly of the savings they worked so hard for all their lives.
Why is elderly fraud on the rise?
The simple reason is that the elderly represent a huge segment of the population. The fastest-rising demographic in the United States is the over-80 age bracket. The more complicated reason is that older adults are an easy target. Many seniors are lonely and looking for companionship, which makes it easy to gain their trust. Moreover, recent neurological research shows that as we age, the part of our brain that picks up on subtle dangers and makes us wary slows down. So the elderly are less likely to pick up on some of the following scams.
The first kind of fraud is personal.
Personal fraud is the type that’s pulled off either face-to-face or over the phone. These scams include:
- Tax scams. The scammer poses as an IRS agent and gets the older adult to give them personal information including their social security number and/or bank information. Or, they call pretending to be from the IRS and make demands for money “owed.”
- Sweepstakes. This is a classic phone scam. The older adult gets a phone call that they’ve won a sweepstakes and that they should be receiving a check any day now. Once they receive the check, they will need to call the number in the letter and pay any taxes, fees, etc. so they can deposit their winnings. Of course, the check is bogus but the criminals are way out of town by the time it actually bounces.
- Repair scams. A contractor shows up and says he’s been sent by the city to fix the water main, gas main, pipe, whatever. Then they demand payment for their “work.” Another version of this is when a repairman working at a neighbor’s house knocks and says, “I’ve been working at the Smith’s and I noticed that your (fill in the blank) is out of order. Would you like me to take care of it while I’m here?
- Computer scams. A computer technician calls or shows up, saying that they’ve been sent to check the computer for viruses. If it’s a phone scam, then they use legitimate remote assistance programs to retrieve information. If it’s in person, they use the time fixing the computer to steal the same.
The second kind of elderly fraud is digital.
Digital fraud is a huge issue with older adults. While many seniors have the same devices as their millennial counterparts, they’re not always as tech-savvy. Good hackers know this and use it to their advantage:
- Email scams. You know the old “Hi, you won’t believe how our dream vacation turned into a nightmare. Our wallets were stolen and we have no money to get home. Could you please wire us this sum and we’ll pay you back” scam? You’d be surprised at how many people fall for it. And when a caring, elderly grandparent receives an email like that from their “grandchild” it works like a charm, far more often than you’d think.
- Malware. This is related to the email scams. Hackers send an innocent-looking email ad or informational article with a link. But when you click on that link, it automatically allows the hacker access to your computer. This is an easy identity theft.
- Bank e-statements. In this one, the hacker sends a digital letter from the older adult’s bank or lawyer, requesting information or payment.
The third scam is really, really painful.
The third kind of elderly fraud is extremely painful – because it’s perpetrated not by cold strangers but by family members and close friends. Statistically speaking, the majority of elderly fraud is pulled off like this. These scammers don’t need to resort to robocalls or online hacking because the older adult already trusts them.
If you suspect something, say something.
If you suspect that a parent or other loved one is being victimized in any way by any of these means, don’t stay quiet. Contact their bank, their lawyer, their accountant or whichever government agency you think is relevant. If they live in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, alert the staff. Don’t be bashful or concerned that it might be a false alarm. Better to sound a false elderly fraud alarm a dozen times than to keep silent on the one occasion something was really wrong.