Elder fraud is an enormous problem that involves massive financial loss and elder abuse. The misappropriation of finances and financial control is known as elder financial abuse or financial exploitation. Elders report losing approximately $1.17 billion each year, but the AARP estimates a more accurate number is probably closer to $40 billion.
Scams and Challenges Faced by Seniors
Elders face losing their independence, neglect and abuse, diminished physical ability, and age discrimination. Even healthy elderly individuals may fall prey to schemes at the hands of criminals or family.
Elderly individuals who require daily assistance may suffer abuse and neglect from caregivers and family members. Being left dirty and unbathed is one of the many signs of neglect that point to elderly abuse. Be on the alert for fraud and abuse perpetrated towards seniors.
What is Elderly Fraud?
Elder fraud is a scam operation that targets seniors. The scammer may be a family member or friend, or a stranger. The most common way for seniors to be targeted is over the Internet or email through phishing techniques, such as:
- Internet offers or emails advertising discount prescriptions and low-cost health coverage
- Internet offers that advertise financial support through home-equity loans or retirement savings
- Friendships evolving through email communications, phone calls, and social media
Telemarketing Frauds and Common Schemes
An FBI sting in 1980 involving specialized AARP members led to 1200 arrests and hundreds of convictions for fraudulent telemarketers selling water purifiers, vacations, sweepstakes, and environmental packages. Telemarketing fraud is still a large concern for seniors. Other typical elderly fraud schemes include:
Romance: Criminals seek to capitalize on elderly victims who desire to find a companion using dating websites and social media.
Grandparent: Criminals contact an elderly individual claiming to be a child or grandchild and needing immediate financial assistance.
Technical support: Criminals contact the elderly individual and offer to fix nonexistent technical issues to gain access to their devices and obtain sensitive information.
Sweepstakes or lottery scams: Criminals contact the elderly victim and claim they won a lottery or sweepstakes for which they require a fee.
Government impersonation: Criminals pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute elderly individuals unless they provide payments.
Home repair: Criminals appear in person at the elderly individual’s property to offer home-improvement services that they never provide.
Family or caregivers: Relatives and acquaintances of elderly individuals may seek to take advantage of them to obtain money or property.
TV/radio: Criminals seek to target potential victims using false advertisements for services such as reverse mortgages and credit repair.
COVID-19 Elderly Scams
During the COVID-19 pandemic, elderly fraud substantially grew as elders were separated from their close family and friends to avoid the virus. Some COVID-19 scams involved selling counterfeit products like air filters, vaccines, and testing, as well as contact tracing schemes designed to trick elders out of money and gain pertinent personal information.
Multiple scams continue to target the elderly concerning COVID-19, including Social Security Administration (SSA) scams and charity requests. One study estimated that one in 10 seniors fell victim to elderly fraud in 2018, and this number increased during the pandemic as elders faced:
Seniors tend to share similar concerns, including high medication costs, a need for healthcare coverage, dwindling retirement funds and plans to provide for their loved ones. Phishing emails on these specific topics grab personal information.
Isolated or Alone
Seniors are uniformly isolated and spend much of their daily lives alone. In many cases of elderly fraud, if the victim had spoken to a family member or a friend, the scam would not have happened.
Naïve and Trusting
While most individuals over the age of 30 do not have any memories without the Internet, most seniors have lived their lives without using email or the Internet and have misappropriated trust. They are unaware of the complexities behind a seemingly safe email.
Diminished Decision-Making Skills
Most seniors experience some diminished mental capacity, and this affects their decision-making abilities.
Elderly Schemes Based on Personal Info
Some schemes are more targeted and involve emails and phone calls using personal information to target the individual. These targeted attacks use information gleaned through general phishing attacks to draw the individual into a scam.
Elderly fraud has resulted in devastating losses for victims, and the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has found that victims suffer an average loss of $34,200 through such scams. The FBI elder fraud department is focused entirely on elderly scams.