Elder fraud is big bucks. The FBI in 2018 tallied $700 million in losses during a year-long effort to arrest criminals and prosecute elder fraud. About 2 million Americans, most of them seniors, were targeted in an endless variety of schemes. Fraudsters might be local or foreign strangers, caregivers, friends of all ages, or even a family member. These criminals often work in teams or groups, but some concoct scams on their own.
Any older adult can be targeted, even high-profile people. Fraudsters used Attorney General William Barr’s name and face to invite people to apply for government grants that didn’t exist. An elderly former U.S. Attorney was targeted by a Jamaican lottery scheme; he didn’t fall for it. A former FBI director and his wife received death threats after they refused to pay fraudsters fees on millions of dollars they had supposedly won.
In this post, you’ll learn why seniors may become vulnerable to scams, common scams that target seniors, including tax refund and tax preparation schemes, and six ways to protect seniors from elder fraud and identity theft.
Why Seniors Are Vulnerable
Seniors are particularly susceptible to scams because of cognitive decline that hinders seniors from making good decisions, particularly under pressure. This is a particular issue for elders who are isolated and have little interaction with the family. By the time family realizes their senior has been taking advantage of, tens of thousands of dollars may have gone missing from accounts.
Of the generation taught to be polite and respectful to strangers, elders don’t want to come off as disrespectful. They may not want to suspect that someone, particularly a person they know, would lie and steal from them.
Baby boomers and other seniors are targeted because many have saved for decades and have healthy nest eggs. Homes and second homes are often mortgage-free. They are old enough to tap into retirement and pension accounts. A widow, finding herself in charge of finances for the first time in her life, can be unsure who she should give access to financial information.
Seniors become easy targets of medical provider scams because they make more visits to health care providers. Government agency-themed fraudsters target seniors because they regularly interact with agencies such as Social Security Administration and Medicare and are less likely to be suspicious when they receive a call requesting access to information.
Once targeted by fraudsters, seniors are often reluctant to report the crime. This can make them vulnerable to repeated scams by the same or other criminals. The seniors may never recover financially.
Common Scams that Target Older Adults
Tax Refund or Back Taxes Scams
Early every year, IRS and tax scams can be particularly successful with seniors. Seniors may receive calls purported to be from the IRS; the caller claims they owe thousands in back taxes and threatens foreclosure, arrest, or deportation. A senior’s identity may be stolen and a tax form filed in their name, the refund kept by the criminal. Seniors should also be careful to have taxes prepared by a reputable tax preparer who won’t attempt to steal a refund or have the senior claim false credits.
Tech Support Scams
A pop-up on a senior’s computer alerts them that their software or hardware needs to be updated immediately. The scammer may even claim to be protecting the senior even though the opposite is true. The senior clicks on a link or makes a call to give bank account or credit card information to pay for the service. Another variation of tech support scam is a senior receives a call from a tech-support service they never requested – and certainly don’t need.
If grandpa starts talking about a fiancé he plans to marry overseas, even though he hasn’t even met her, he may have been targeted by scammers. If your great aunt has found the love of her life through a senior dating site, then sends her new boyfriend money for a down payment on a new home in a place she’s never visited, her so-called boyfriend may be a fraudster.
Often romance scammers will request that large sums of money be sent immediately for a medical or another emergency. Sometimes, brides ask for money to be wired to pay for a wedding that will never happen.
Lottery or Prize Scams
You run into an elderly friend at the bank: she’s never won anything, but she just received a call letting her know she’s won a luxury vehicle. She’s at the bank to wire money to cover fees, taxes, and shipping costs.
Your mother suddenly begins to receive bills on credit card accounts she doesn’t remember opening. When you check her credit report, you realize several accounts have been opened recently in her name and thousands of dollars of debt racked up in places she’s never been.
Your older brother offered to handle the bill paying for your mother. But when you collect her mail when she’s sick, you find late notices for bills even though your mother’s bank account balances are dwindling. The next thing you know, your brother and his wife are taking a fancy European vacation well above their means. Or perhaps you show up at your grandfather’s unannounced and hear his caregiver demanding he writes a check for a pricey invoice, even though you’ve already paid the agency. Your nephew offered to repair your father’s roof; he charged thousands for supplies never delivered, and now the roof is leaking.
If you think you, a friend or family member are being mistreated by financial exploitation or neglect you could reach out to ElderSAFE which also provides physical, sexual and psychological support services.
6 Tips to Protect Elders from Identity Theft
Even before you feel your senior loved ones need your help handling financial matters, arrange a family meeting – with all siblings, if possible – to discuss their obligations and assets. Don’t wait until they are experiencing cognitive decline and can’t remember where all the information is.
If you suspect that something isn’t right with your senior’s financial situation, step in, no matter how awkward this makes the next family holiday. If an elderly friend’s family doesn’t live nearby, perhaps their pastor or competent friend might get involved.
- Add contacts to your senior’s phone for all family and friends. Then instruct them not to answer calls from unknown numbers.
- Advise older adults they hang up on any caller requesting personal information such as Social Security number, date of birth, or insurance information.
- Tell your senior the IRS and debt collectors don’t initiate contact by phone first. For example, the IRS will mail notices through the U.S. Postal Service first.
Online and Email Tips
- Don’t click on links in emails, particularly if they are threatening or include typos and odd-looking versions of famous logos.
- Ignore pop-ups.
- Never give financial information online unless they have initiated the contact with a known vendor.
- Keep passwords and logins secure.
- Install virus and other security software and keep it up to date.
- Help your senior to put a freeze on their credit through all three major credit bureaus.
- Pay for reputable identity theft protection to receive alerts about unusual activity.
- Review monthly bank and other account statements; alternate this responsibility with family members to ensure no one person is taking advantage.
- Ask about any new bills or expenses, such as checks made out to individuals who haven’t provided a service or product.
- Check credit reports from the three major credit bureaus annually.
- Politely ask for first and last names and city/state of any new love interest; do an online search to determine if a person is living in that area with this name.
- Act excited and ask to see a picture; do an online search to see if the photo is a stock photo or belongs to someone by another name.
- Remind your elder that true love shouldn’t involve a financial transaction of any type.
- As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Even when a family member or friend is making the offer.
Where to Get Help
We understand the challenges related to taking care of an aging loved one. Smithlife Homecare is available 24/7 to assist you with their care needs. Contact us today.