Help Seniors Recognize and Defend Against Scams and Elder Fraud

Help Seniors Recognize and Defend Against Scams and Elder Fraud

In 2022, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported a total loss of $3.1 billion to scams for adults over 60. Unfortunately, the holidays are the perfect opportunity for scammers to take advantage of seniors prone to charitable giving. Scammers will ask seniors for donations via email, text, phone, social media, or mail. They may even claim donations were made to the charity in the past.

How to Help Seniors Recognize and Defend Against Scams and Elder Fraud

In 2022, 88,262 people over 60 fell victim to elder fraud, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Of those victims, individuals lost an average of $35,101, and 5,456 lost more than $100k. These losses are an 84% increase from 2021. It’s clear that scammers aren’t slowing down, and seniors need to stay in the know to defend against them, especially during the holiday season when financial giving and spending is high.

What are the scams seniors should be aware of? How can I help protect the seniors in my life? Read more to learn how seniors can protect their hard-earned finances and stay informed about prevalent scams.

Open the Conversation

The first step to fighting against scammers and elder fraud is initiating financial conversations with the seniors in your life. These conversations aren’t always easy, and you wouldn’t be alone if discussing financial matters isn’t your cup of tea. However, in 2022, the FBI reported a total loss of $3.1 billion to scams for adults over 60. With a number like that, it’s worth putting the fear of temporary discomfort behind you. Even if your loved ones may already know about scams, it never hurts to bring more attention to potential threats. Initiating financial conversations now will save you AND your loved ones from an abundance of stress, hurt, and panic in the long run.

Promote Awareness of Scams

As they say, knowledge is power. Scammers thrive off of unaware and uninformed individuals. The less seniors know about scamming techniques, the easier it is to make them fall victim to the fake urgency and fear involved in the scam.

Let’s discuss six common scams used against seniors:

  1. Fraudulent Charity Scams

  2. Impersonator/Imposter Scams

  3. Grandparent Scams

  4. Investment and Get Rich Scams

  5. Romance Scams

  6. Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lottery Scams

Fraudulent Charity Scams

Unfortunately, the holidays are the perfect opportunity for scammers to take advantage of seniors prone to charitable giving. In fact, during its annual Holiday Giving Survey, World Vision found that more than 3 in 5 Americans (63 percent) typically donate to an organization or charitable cause during the last two weeks of December. Scammers will ask seniors for donations via email, text, phone, social media, or mail. They may even claim you have donated to the charity in the past.

How to Protect Against Charity Scams:

  1. Always thoroughly research charities you are planning on donating to. Scammers often imitate names, websites, and marketing materials that real charities use. Use resources like https://give.org/ to verify the legitimacy of organizations.

  2. Never provide your Social Security number, bank account info, or other personal or financial information when you receive unsolicited phone calls, messages, or emails.

  3. If the supposed representative requests that you make the check out to a business or individual rather than the charity, it is likely a scam.

  4. Take note if the individual is particularly pushy or pressuring. One of their tactics is to make you feel rushed.

  5. Be skeptical of requests for payment by cash, gift card, or wire transfer. These payments are hard to trace (which is perfect for scammers).

  6. Ask them to send you more information about the charity so you can review the information. Legitimate companies will do this.

  7. Charity web addresses usually end with .org and not .com.

Impersonator/Imposter Scams

Trustworthy, respectable, and legitimate are all words that many, specifically seniors, associate with authority figures. Impersonator scams are the exact opposite, yet they prey on those beliefs. Scammers will pose as a government agency like the IRS, a financial institution, or a well-known tech company over text, email, or call. They may ask seniors to provide money for taxes or Social Security information to avoid legal repercussions. Since the message is coming from a source that looks to be reliable, it is easy to believe and take seriously.

How to Protect Against Impersonator/Imposter Scams:

  1. Don’t be fooled by caller IDs! Scammers can fake them to look legitimate, so don’t automatically trust a caller because of this label.

  2. Remember that reputable businesses and agencies won’t ask for payments via gift cards or wire transfers.

  3. Never provide your Social Security number, bank account info, or other personal or financial information when you receive unsolicited phone calls, messages, or emails.

  4. Never open email attachments or click links unless you are positive you know the sender is legitimate.

Grandparent Scams

Grandparent scams take advantage of raw emotions and relationships. Scammers pretend to be a panicked grandchild or loved one who needs financial support immediately. Imagine saying no to a family member desperately asking for help. That can be very emotionally challenging, and seniors want to believe they are helping the ones they love. These scammers often pass the conversation to a fake third party like a lawyer, kidnapper, or law official to make the situation seem more legitimate.

These scams are particularly dangerous and convincing with recent advancements in AI technology. Voice cloning scams mimic a loved one’s voice using generative AI. The scary part? They can do this using something as simple as a 3-second video clip from social media.

How to Protect Against Grandparent Scams:

  1. Directly contact the individual the messenger claims to be. Contact their close friend or relative and ask about the legitimacy of the situation if you can’t reach the individual.

  2. Ask questions that would be hard for the individual to answer if they weren’t who they claim to be. For example, ask for their mother’s birthday or pet’s name. Some scammers may not even know the name of the person they are trying to imitate!

  3. Don’t be fooled when scammers ask you not to tell anyone about the situation, specifically family members. They want to isolate you from help and people who may be aware of scamming techniques.

  4. Never send money unless you are positive of the requester’s identity. Be cautious of financial requests for gift cards, wire transfers, payment apps, or cash; these are common requests from scammers.

Investment and Get Rich Quick Scams

Most of us wouldn’t object to getting rich quickly. These scams thrive on that desire. In get-rich-quick schemes, scammers offer individuals incentives that promise large sums of money in return for an initial investment. In reality, you get nothing in return, and you LOSE all that money to the scammers. This type of fraud is also called a pyramid or Ponzi scheme.

Another subcategory of investment scams is cryptocurrency schemes. The FBI reported that more than $1 billion was stolen in cryptocurrency scams from U.S. seniors in 2022. That is a 78% increase from 2021. Like a get-rich-quick scheme, scammers convince you to invest in a business or investment plan with the promise of bright financial horizons ahead. In reality, they gain access to your crypto wallet and financial information.

How to Protect Against Investment and Get Rich Quick Scams:

  1. Be skeptical of offers that promise high returns in short amounts of time. While it would be great if these investments were legit, they are often the opposite.

  2. If there is an emphasis on recruiting others to the program, that is a telltale sign of a pyramid scheme.

  3. Look into the products or services offered by the program. If they don’t seem genuine or you can’t figure out what exactly they sell, it’s time to run for the hills.

  4. Ask the seniors in your life to contact you or a trusted advisor before making financial decisions or sharing personal or financial information.

Romance Scams

A 2023 study done by the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA) reported that one in three adults aged 50–80 (34%) felt isolated from others (29% some of the time, 5% often) in the past year. With that loneliness comes the longing for connection. Unfortunately, this is the perfect opportunity for scammers to target those emotions. In 2020 alone, adults aged 60 and up lost $139 million to romance scams.

Romance scams are a type of online fraud where scammers create fake personas and seek to build emotional connections with individuals so they can financially exploit them. Scammers use social media, dating apps, email, and other communication platforms to do this.

How to Protect Against Romance Scams:

  1. Romantic relationships are obviously very emotional, so the news of a relationship being a scam can be painful. Some seniors may even refuse to believe that the relationship is harmful. Provide examples of real-life romance scams that show similar red flags and patterns.

  2. If a senior uses online dating or communication apps, ensure they are well-known and reputable platforms. Additionally, encourage seniors to verify the information about the person on the other side of the screen. Ask a lot of questions and note anything that doesn’t line up.

  3. Stay aware of common red flags. Seniors should become skeptical if there are requests for money, a refusal or reluctance to meet in person, or if details about the individual don’t line up and are inconsistent.

Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lottery Scams

You won! Or you’re just getting scammed. Unfortunately, scammers will contact seniors claiming they have won a prize, sweepstake, or lottery. They will then ask for money or account information. Victims overcome with excitement may forget to take a moment to stop and think about the integrity of the situation before sending the money or information.

How to Protect Against Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lottery Scams:

  1. Verify the legitimacy of the situation by contacting the lottery or sweepstakes organization directly. DO NOT USE THE CONTACT INFORMATION PROVIDED ON THE INITIAL MESSAGE. Use the contact information provided on the organization’s official website.

  2. Never pay upfront. Know that lottery and sweepstake winnings never require upfront fees.

  3. Know that government agencies never call, request money, or ask for financial information to collect prizes.

Rules of Thumb

One of the most preventative actions to avoid and protect seniors against these scams is to create a line of open communication. Ensure your loved ones feel comfortable contacting you or a trusted advisor for assistance and guidance. Stay up to date with current scams and encourage seniors to do the same.

To diminish the likelihood of over-the-phone scams, join the national do not call registry. Visit https://www.donotcall.gov/ or call 1-888-382-1222.

What To Do If You Experience a Scam Attempt

Don’t be ashamed if you have been scammed. Help those around you by reporting scams to authorities. Staying silent only allows scammers to continue hurting others. If you experience a scam attempt, report the activity to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or the local police.

How 1166 FCU Can Help

1166 FCU cares deeply about the safety of you and your finances. For more information, browse this article that further discusses financial scams that target older adults or view the information provided by the Fraud Prevention Center.