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Common Elder-Fraud Scams

Elderly citizens are vulnerable to fraud and scams, with results costing an estimated $2.9 billion in annual losses. In addition, authorities believe these losses are underreported because many elderly scam victims are too embarrassed or ashamed to report their losses. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the overwhelming majority of fraud victims in the U.S. are elderly Americans. Aging citizens are particularly vulnerable to becoming the victims of telemarketing fraud, telephone scams, and internet fraud, sometimes losing a lifetime of accumulated assets and hard-earned retirement funds. Studies show that the elderly are more likely than younger individuals to fall victim to scams regardless of their level of education and income. 

Elder fraud scams are a type of elder abuse targeting the most vulnerable of citizens. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over 65% of known financial fraud against the elderly arise from seven common types of scams.

Common Elder-Fraud Scams

Government Agency Impersonation

The elderly make attractive scam victims because they often have nest eggs at the same time that fraudsters know their victims have memory problems that can make it difficult for them to report the details of fraudulent transactions later. One of the most common scam methods against the elderly is government imposter fraud. The perpetrator calls an elderly target and pretends to be from a government agency like the IRS, Medicare, or Social Security. They then ask for sensitive information such as a birthdate, address, social security number, and other identifiers that give them access to accounts. They may state that the elderly victim must send a wire transfer or credit card payment to address an alleged fine, or unpaid taxes, or to give them access to a bank account to transfer their social security payments directly into the account.

Government impersonators may use “spoofing” technology to make legitimate government titles or local area codes appear on the victim’s caller ID.

The Grandparent Call Scam

One of the most common scams against the elderly uses their love for their grandchildren to victimize them. The scammer calls an elderly victim on the phone and uses trickery such as calling them “Grandma” or “Grandpa” or asking them, “Do you know which grandchild I am?” so the elderly victim guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer’s voice most resembles. Then, the fraudster pretends to be in some kind of trouble that requires immediate payment such as a jail bond, an emergency room payment, car repairs, or rent payment to avoid eviction. They may request payment through a prepaid gift card or money transfer. Often, they ask their target to keep everything a secret by saying things like, “Please don’t tell mom,” or “I’m embarrassed and don’t want anyone to know.”

This scam is particularly egregious because it causes intense anxiety to the elderly victim who believes their grandchild is facing a serious immediate threat.

Robocall Phone Scams

One of the simplest and most common scams against the elderly is a simple robocall with a recorded message saying, “Can you hear me?” When the elderly victim answers, “Yes,” it records their voice and then disconnects. The scammer then uses the recording for authorization into accounts and as a voice signature to authorize money transfers. 

Some phone scams promise goods or services to an elderly victim such as vacations, healthcare products, roof repairs, or driveway repaving at low cost with the special offer only available that day. They then request a credit card number, bank account number, or a check picked up by a courier service and never deliver on the promised goods or services.

Impending Lawsuit or Arrest Scams

Another popular phone scam is one in which the fraudster impersonates law enforcement and claims the elderly person is the focus of a lawsuit or an impending arrest for a contrived offense which they can only avoid by an immediate wire transfer of money into an untraceable account. 

Computer Tech Support Scams

Older people who did not grow up in the computer age may have less knowledge about technology, making them vulnerable to common computer tech support scams. These scams may send a fraudulent computer virus alert, a blank screen, or a pop-up message requiring the victim to pay for a computer repair or they will lose their data or their computer will cease functioning. They may give the victim a number to call for payment or request remote access to the computer which then gives them access to accounts and passwords.

Phishing Emails

Many elderly individuals fall victim to phishing emails requesting sensitive data. These emails may appear to come from legitimate sources using names of streaming services that threaten to close an account if the individual doesn’t update their information or a well-known delivery service that needs information to deliver a package. They sometimes use the names of popular banks so the recipient believes they are communicating with their banker and grants the scammer access to account information.

Suspicious Activity on Your Amazon Account Scam

One of the simplest scams involves sending a senior a text message or calling them with a fake alert that there has been suspicious activity on their Amazon account. The fake tech representative asks for sensitive information to “verify” the account and asks for access to bank accounts and credit card accounts under the guise of removing fake charges. Instead, they drain the bank accounts and make fraudulent charges or cash advances on the credit cards.

Watching for Signs that an Elderly Loved One Has Fallen Victim to Scams or Other Forms of Elder Financial Abuse

It’s important to watch for red flags and warning signs that an elderly loved one has become the victim of a scam or financial exploitation. Not only are elderly citizens more likely to become the victims of phone and internet scams, but they may also fall victim to exploitation by caregivers in nursing homes, at-home caregivers, distant relatives, or even strangers who befriend them. Common warning signs include large cash withdrawals, suspicious activity on credit cards, new signatures as authorized users on accounts, or a distant relative who suddenly takes an interest in spending time with an elderly family member and helps themselves to their assets.

Report Scams and Elder Financial Abuse to the Authorities

If your elderly loved one has fallen victim to a scammer or has been exploited by a caregiver, it’s important to alert the authorities. This not only puts law enforcement on the case and helps to identify the scammers but also alerts authorities to new scams so they can put out warnings to the public. It’s also important that you contact a Phoenix elder abuse lawyer to get started on your case.

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