According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), one in every 20 seniors fall victim to some kind of financial exploitation. Over the last decade, financial scams against seniors have increased significantly, becoming what many consider the crime of the 21st century. Sadly, in today’s society, we need to be on alert to the many risks to our financial safety as we age.
Scammers often target seniors because they have a perception that older adults are vulnerable, trusting and, on top of this, wealthy. While this stereotype of the older population is often false, there is some foundation for these ideas. Seniors grew up in a time when the technology scammers use didn’t exist yet. Without a full understanding of Internet safety, seniors can fall victim to online scams and fraud.
Another aspect that makes seniors vulnerable to fraud and identity theft is the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. Sometimes individuals living with Alzheimer’s struggle with making sound judgments with their finances and do fall victim to financial exploitation.
Whether you want to know how to protect yourself or a vulnerable loved one, read on to learn more about protecting yourself and your assets, and recognize scammers’ common tactics so you can start fighting against fraud.
Scams Commonly Used on Seniors
One advantage scammers have when it comes to exploiting seniors is their targets’ accessibility. Older adults are usually connected to programs involved with their retirement, whether those be health and life insurance, refinancing for retirement or selling their home to move to a senior living community. Scammers have crafted several ways of getting their hands on personal information. A few of these popular tactics include:
- Medicare Scams – Scammers pose as representatives on the phone and ask for their target’s personal information. Or, scam artists provide fake services at a makeshift clinic, bill Medicare using the senior’s information and pocket the money.
- Telemarketing Scams – Scammers will call targets pretending to be representatives from the IRS, their insurance company or hospitals, insisting that they provide their personal information and bank account information or wire money in order to avoid an issue. Others may even pretend to be the person’s grandchild and ask them to wire them money to help them out of trouble.
- Counterfeit Prescription Drugs – Scammers will sell bogus drugs over the Internet to seniors looking for lower prices for their prescriptions. Sometimes, these drugs are made of harmful substances that can seriously harm the victims.
- Funeral Scams – Disreputable funeral agencies have taken advantage of a deceased person’s family by capitalizing on their unfamiliarity with funeral costs, overcharging them or insisting they pay for products and services they don’t need.
- Internet Fraud – Scammers create false advertisements for anti-virus software or prizes that, when clicked on, download a virus that takes personal information off the computer. Others might sell fake programs for a significant price and con their victims.
- Investment Schemes – As seniors look for ways to invest their money for their later years or to pass on to children, scammers jump in with “too good to be true” investment opportunities.
- Sweepstakes & Lottery Schemes – Scammers call to announce that their target has won a significant prize, and all they need to do is pay a fee or verify their personal information in order to claim it.
Once a scammer has access to your bank account information, credit card number or social security number, they can steal your identity and wipe your accounts dry. Since many of these schemes are untraceable, victims of this kind of financial abuse often have no way of recovering their lost assets. The best way to protect yourself against this kind of fraud is to prevent it from succeeding.
How to Avoid Scams & Financial Fraud
Awareness and caution are the greatest tools seniors have against the onslaught of scammers. When you know how to recognize a scam, you’re more likely to know when it’s time to hang up the phone or question the scammer’s authority. Other great ways to keep scammers away and protect your finances include regularly checking your account transactions and balances, getting Caller ID, signing up for the Do Not Call list, only using trusted, secure websites or purchasing identity theft protection.
If you’re caring for an older loved one who may be more vulnerable to scams due to cognitive decline, you can still help keep their finances secure. In addition to the strategies above:
- Teach them about scam tactics. Warn them never to give out personal information over the phone or wire money to someone they do not know. Help them avoid Internet scams by bookmarking the websites they use frequently (such as email) and blocking pop-ups.
- Keep an eye on their financial activity. Ask to see their bank statements or credit card bills regularly. If you think your loved one is really at risk, consider becoming their legal guardian so you can protect their finances and assets.
- If someone comes into your loved one’s house to clean or care for them, make sure you interview them thoroughly first to ensure they are trustworthy. Not all financial scams occur over the phone or on the Internet. Sometimes, those who seniors think they can trust the most are the ones who have the greatest ability to exploit them.
Keep Yourself Safe
If you ever suspect that you or a loved one has fallen victim to identity theft, fraud, scams or any other form of financial abuse, don’t hesitate to report it. Call the police or your local Adult Protective Services agency. Every report can help law enforcement track down and stop scams from happening in the future.