Elder Fraud and Scams That Target Vulnerable Senior Citizens
As we approach 2021, an estimated 74 million ‘baby boomers’ are approaching retirement age and for the next 20 years, nearly 10,000 people a day will turn 65 years old; it is important to recognize two facts as we look at those statistics.
First, more people will approach the age where they may be the target of unscrupulous criminals who perpetuate fraud against seniors, and we need to educate our aging population on how to protect themselves and their retirements.
Secondly, as the next generation to follow also grows older, they will find themselves as the guardians and caregivers of this growing population; they too need to be wise to the many scams and frauds that can target our seniors and other vulnerable adults (and they too will be there one day themselves).
Understanding Elder Fraud
When investigating elder financial abuse, it is troubling to see that in many cases the “abuser” is a family member or someone who has been otherwise entrusted to care for the victim. For other family members who are involved, it is important to determine who will have authority in handling these matters (custodian, guardianship, Power of Attorney).
It is also important to recognize behavior that would be considered highly ‘out of character’ for that elder adult; for example, if the elder has never had an ATM card or never uses the ATM, and we suddenly see numerous ATM withdrawals on a regular basis, why is this happening? Who would be conducting these withdrawals? If the senior in question has not used credit cards for many years but now we find multiple credit card statements on their kitchen table, who is using these cards? Recognizing behavior that is ‘out of character’ from the normal financial routine can be a good indicator of suspicious activity.
Listen as Charles Broe, AVP of Asset Protection, shares his tips for identifying and protecting yourself from scams. Access the 20-minute podcast episode here.
When we talk about scams, the most important thing to remember is: the goal of a scammer is to play on the emotions of their ‘victim’, in order to get them to make a decision that they would otherwise never make. If the fraudster can compromise the victim by getting them excited, or scared, they are more apt to manipulate that victim to defraud them of their money.
Be Aware of These Common Scams
Lottery & Sweepstakes scam: “YOU HAVE WON MILLIONS!” It’s not typed in a regular fashion; it’s in capital letters with exclamation points, with logos and dollar signs! It’s meant to get the victim excited, so that they forget to be cautious. The scammers will send a check, instruct the victim to cash it, and return the money for the “taxes on your winnings”.
The truth is: after the money has been sent, the check is returned as fraudulent, the victim has lost their own money, and they never hear from the scammers again.
Tax / IRS / Government Agent scam: “This is Agent xxxx from the IRS; I am calling regarding your outstanding balance and you are subject to arrest”. Many of us have received these calls; sadly, thousands of vulnerable adults fall prey to this scam every year. The fraudsters instill fear into their potential victims with a threatening tone of voice and using official sounding language such as “requires your immediate attention; official magistrate; federal criminal offenses; subject to arrest and prosecution”.
The truth is: the IRS will NEVER call and threaten someone with arrest, and they will NEVER instruct someone to buy gift cards and send the card numbers as payment.
Grandparent scam: “Grandma, I’ve been arrested and I need thousands of dollars for bail!” This scam truly plays on the emotions of our senior citizens, who would do almost anything (or in this case, send large amounts of money) to help a grandchild in need. The scammers may impersonate a police officer and say their grandchild has been in an accident; a younger person may even act as the scammer on the phone and pretend to be the grandchild. Perhaps the car broke down, or they claim to have been arrested and need “bail”; whatever the case, the scammers instill a sense of fear and want the grandparent to send money and send it now.
The truth is: the first thing should be to simply contact the grandchild, or contact another family member who can in turn contact the grandchild. In many cases, one simple phone call proves the grandchild is just fine.
Technology scam: “This is Microsoft Windows Support; your anti-virus is expired and we’d like to clean your computer”. These scammers use a combination of fear and trust to get the victim to give them remote access to their computer. Once inside, they tell the victim they are entitled to a ‘refund’ and convince them to log into their Online Banking. The fraudsters will then transfer funds between accounts, unbeknownst to the victim; they will then tell the victim they accidentally refunded them “too much” and will request those funds be returned.
The truth is: it’s the victim’s own money they are sending to the scammers; don’t give anyone remote access to your computer.
Romance scam: This scam has cost many people millions of dollars, if not more. Those in an aging population that are seeking love and companionship can often fall victim to an online fraudster, and the losses can be tragic both financially and emotionally. Whether through a dating site or an online chat room, a scammer will communicate back and forth with a victim, in order to build trust and excitement for the day that they’ll finally “meet”. It is at that point (again the emotional compromise) that the scam occurs. The victim will be asked to send money for ‘airfare’ so their new found love can come to see them… or the person claims to have been in a serious accident and needs funds right away… there are any number of ‘excuses’ that are given to pull on the heart strings of the victim and get them to send funds. What’s worse is if the victim sends money once, the requests to send more money become more desperate and more convincing.
The truth is: don’t ever send money to someone you do not know. Do not send them your personal information, your banking credentials, or anything else they can use to pressure you in the future.
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