The Federal Bureau of Investigations reports that each year, millions – yes, millions – of older Americans fall for senior scams. The average amount of money lost during elder fraud scams is just over $9,000, with nearly $1 billion recorded in losses just in 2020 alone. The bad news is that people profit from scamming older adults, but the good news is that you can do your part to help keep your older loved one from falling victim to these predators hidden behind computer screens. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Are Older Adults Vulnerable to Senior Scams?
While it is true that anyone can fall for an online or phone based scam, older adults are significantly more vulnerable to it than their younger peers. Here are a few qualities or situations that can make your loved one more vulnerable to being scammed:
- Having a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
- Having a social media account
- Having a spouse or partner who has passed away in the last 5 years
- Being more socially isolated in the past 5 years, or expressing feelings of loneliness
- Having a diagnosis of depression or anxiety
Perhaps the biggest reason why older adults are more vulnerable to senior scams than their younger peers is the fact that scammers are actively targeting adults over the age of 50. Scammers tend to look for older victims because of the ability to successfully con them as well as because seniors are less likely to report a scam. In fact, it is estimated that only 1 in 44 cases of fraud are reported by older adults typically because of the shame or embarrassment that accompanies the money loss.
Protecting Your Loved One From Senior Scams
While you can’t fully protect your loved one from falling for senior scams, you can create an environment and habits that decrease their risk:
- Install ad-blocking software on their computer
- Put their phone numbers on the Do Not Call List
- Check with the Better Business Bureau before purchasing services or products
- Sift through their junk mail during your visits to look for any unsolicited mailings
- Educate them to never give or send any information, money, or checks to new people
- Encourage them to start the habit of asking for anything in writing instead of giving money right away.
- Shred receipts and documents during your visits
- Run a credit report at least annually
- Follow your local senior center as well as police department on social media to learn more about scams that might be in the area
- If your loved one has issues with judgment due to a neurological issue or dementia, consider home care services to fill in when you are not able to provide guidance or oversight. Having a caregiver in the home can decrease the number of unsolicited visits or phone calls.
- Look for any strange or new withdrawals or charges in your loved one’s bank account or credit card
Making a Report
If your loved one does fall victim to a scam, it is important to report it right away. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Praise your loved one for sharing the scam with you. Remember, they probably feel embarrassed or worried.
- Get as much information from your loved one as possible, including any receipts, voicemails, emails, or other documentation.
- Work with your loved one’s bank to cancel any debit cards, credit cards, or other items linked with their bank accounts.
- Reset any PIN numbers
- Call your local police department and ask to speak to someone in the elder fraud department. Give as much information as you can and ask for a copy of the report to keep in a file.
- Start a file with all information you have about the incident.
Remember, the more trustworthy people you can surround your loved one with while they live at home alone or with a partner, the more you decrease the risk they fall victim to senior scams. Also, keep the lines of communication open so they come to you with any questions or to report potential fraud.