Senior scams are a common problem in our increasingly digital world. The true impact of the problem is far bigger than anyone can calculate. The United Nations and International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse even remind us to protect all senior citizens from emotional, financial, physical, and sexual abuse. It’s true, seniors matter that much.
Let’s talk about senior scams and how you can help your loved ones not to fall victim to unscrupulous elements. The National Council on Aging says 1 out of 10 Americans 60 years and over experience some type of abuse over a single year. The figure works out at around 5 million seniors yearly.
Senior scams fall under financial abuse. In such situations, there is coercion, trickery, or bullying of parting with hard-earned assets. Scams are the most common form of senior abuse and the fastest growing variant. Your loved one might just be part of the majority.
Why Bother About Seniors Becoming Financial Scam Victims?
Seniors are less likely than other age groups to report scam losses. Most fraud reports seniors filed with the Consumer Sentinel Network of the FTC did not reveal any monetary loss. Ironically, the rate at which those consumers spotted fraud, reporting it before losing money, was twice the rate of people between 20 and 59 years.
How and Why Does Senior Fraud Work?
Whether it's a romance scam, smishing, sweepstake scam, lottery scam, confidence schemes, or financial fraud, have a few general patterns.
The criminals first work to win the trust of the target. It typically involves establishing direct regular communication with the senior via phone, mail, or online. As soon as the scammer is successful with this, they can keep the plot alive to milk it of possible financial gains.
Fraudsters love seniors because they are most trusting. They’re also polite to strangers. The fraudster exploits this to access the senior’s money, home, or good credit rating. Having any of this would make them a lucrative business for scammers.
For reasons that may include shame or displeasure with their actions, seniors may not report fraud or give all necessary details to help an investigation.
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Types of Senior Scams
The common types of senior scams to be aware of include:
1. Caregiver/Family Scam: Acquaintances or relatives of the seniors taking advantage of the relationship to rob them.
2. Charity/Lottery/Sweepstake Scam: There are legitimate organizations that criminals may claim to work to gain victims' trust. They might say the target has won a sweepstake or foreign lottery. The catch is that the victim needs to pay some money to claim their "prize."
3. Grandparent Scam: Seniors need to forge close relationships with their children or grandchildren. It can help to avoid grave financial scams where the criminals pose as these relatives.
4. Government Impersonation Scam: Fraudsters posing as government personnel may threaten to “arrest” or “prosecute” victims unless they provide funds or other payments.
5. Home Repair Scam: Criminals may appear at a senior’s home and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never offer.
6. Radio/TV Scam: Criminals may be bold enough to target potential senior victims with illegitimate advertisements about legal services, such as credit repair or reverse mortgages.
7. Romance Scam: Perhaps the most prevalent strategy, criminals sign up on personals and dating websites promising the romance of a lifetime. Social media is an effective tool for this type of scam.
How We Can Protect Seniors From Financial Scams
While it's a lofty dream to stop fraud against senior citizens completely, there are proven ways to ensure that your beloved senior relative doesn’t lose money to some fraudster:
#1 – Contact them often
Be mindful of cues from senior citizens, especially when they start spending a lot of time interacting with a new friend. They may even wax lyrical about their new "best friend," yet becoming isolated and unyielding with valuable information on their interactions with their new “friend.”
It may become difficult to get their attention or cooperation except when a caregiver is present. It might be a sign that the unknown individual influences the senior's behaviour and decisions.
#2 – Control who can send them offers
Ensure to opt out of commercial mail solicitations. There’s an option of a five-year ban on the mail preference service of the Direct Marketing Association. The website optoutprescreen.com can help with eliminating unwanted offers for credit. It's also possible to stop robocalls with a call-screening tool, a third-party call-blocking device or service, and your phone’s anti-robocall service.
Bear in mind that the FCC now allows phone carriers to provide robocall-blocking services by default, without first requiring a consumer opt-in.
#3 – Ensure the senior’s caregiver has some personal time
A caregiver needs to be in as good a shape financially and emotionally as possible. When this is not the case, they might want to steal from the one(s) they should be caring for. Give the caregiver ample time to rest. Their frame of mind is crucial to the success of this process.
#4 – Use the bank’s security measures
Suppose your senior relative is unable to make sound financial decisions. You can set up a limited account at a local bank for them. The account may feature a daily, weekly, or monthly spending limit and a debit (not credit) card. This way, all other funds may remain in a separate account with a more secure account.
#5 – Contact the bank to arrange account oversight
Request the financial institutions to forward alerts and statements to a trusted individual. This person should not have any direct access to the senior’s account; their role is strictly supervisory, enabling them to check for fraud.
There are online services that consolidate all accounts belonging to a senior, checking them daily for fraud or suspicious activity.
Scams may take any form or shape. It's the reason why due diligence is necessary by both the seniors and their relatives. Institutions should continually put measures in place to protect seniors from criminal elements. It is a full-time job, but it's doable.