Each year, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme, including romance, lottery, and sweepstakes scams, to name a few, says the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Criminals will gain their targets’ trust and may communicate with them directly via computer, phone, and the mail, or indirectly through the TV and radio. Once successful, scammers are likely to keep a scheme going because of the prospect of significant financial gain.
Seniors are often targeted because they tend to be trusting and polite, says the FBI. They also usually have financial savings, own a home, and have good credit, all of which make them attractive to scammers.
Additionally, seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed at having been scammed. They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs. And when an elderly victim does report a crime, they may be unable to supply detailed information to investigators, says the FBI.
With the elderly population growing and seniors racking up more than $3 billion in losses annually, elder fraud is likely to be a growing problem.
Former FBI Director William Webster and his wife were the targets of a Jamaican lottery scam in 2014. They helped in the FBI’s investigation, which led to the arrest and conviction of Keniel Thomas, who was sentenced in February 2019 to nearly six years in prison.
Common elder fraud scams:
• Romance scam: Criminals pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites to capitalize on their elderly victims’ desire to find companions.
• Tech support scam: Criminals pose as technology support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammers gain remote access to victims’ devices and sensitive information.
• Grandparent scam: Criminals pose as a relative, usually a child or grandchild, claiming to be in immediate financial need.
• Government impersonation scam: Criminals pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.
• Sweepstakes/charity/lottery scam: Criminals claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims’ trust. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can collect for a “fee.”
• Home repair scam: Criminals appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide.
• TV/radio scam: Criminals target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services, such as reverse mortgages or credit repair.
• Family/caregiver scam: Relatives or acquaintances of the elderly victims take advantage of them or otherwise get their money.
• Recognize scam attempts and end all communication with the perpetrator.
• Search online for the contact information (name, email, phone number, addresses) and the proposed offer. Other people have likely posted information online about individuals and businesses trying to run scams.
• Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.
• Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door services offers.
• Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses.
• Make sure all computer anti-virus and security software and malware protections are up to date. Use reputable anti-virus software and firewalls.
• Disconnect from the internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message or locked screen. Pop-ups are regularly used by perpetrators to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up.
• Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know, and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you.
• Take precautions to protect your identity if a criminal gains access to your device or account. Immediately contact your financial institutions to place protections on your accounts, and monitor your accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.
People who believe they’ve been the victim of fraud should contact law enforcement authorities.