If you ask around, chances are someone you know has a Senior relative that has been the target and possibly the victim of a scam that focuses on Seniors. While many scams have no specific target, there are many that are designed to defraud Seniors out of their money in particular.
There are several reasons why Seniors make good targets:
- Seniors often have financial resources making them an opportune target
- Seniors tend to be more trusting and due to relative isolation, seek someone to talk to and who will pay attention to them
- Seniors often will not report these crimes because they are embarrassed or don’t even realize they have been scammed
- They won’t report because they fear that admitting to being duped will make them look foolish and no longer able to cognitively manage their own finances – so their independence is threatened
- Seniors don’t know how to or to whom to report a crime
- Seniors often make poor witnesses due to impaired mobility, eyesight, hearing or memory
- Seniors with a chronic progressive illness may be desperate for any hope of alleviating pain or curing an illness thereby more susceptible to scams
- Due to many of the above reasons, Seniors often wait to report a crime making tracking down any leads to the perpetrators less likely as more time goes by
Scams targeting Seniors are as sneaky and inventive limited only by the imagination and creativity of the criminals. There are two basic forms that scams will take:
- Hard money scams – these are ploys to get the Senior to send money through a bank wire, credit card or other asset such as a stock portfolio or insurance policy. The key here is that the scammer has the Senior send money to them. While embarrassing and frustrating, the scam is usually a fixed amount stolen isolated to a specific incident
- Identity scams are designed the give criminals access to a Senior’s information, which they can then use to steal that person’s identity. This can be a recurring and potentially far more impactful type of scam because the fraud can continue until it is detected and all access to the Senior’s financial resources are closed
Scammers gain access to Seniors in many ways – through phone calls, emails, letters that look very official from financial institutions or government agencies, by obtaining information in newspapers such as obituaries that allow them to use information to create familiarity with the Senior, or even using ‘click bait’ on the Internet to get Seniors to unwittingly trap themselves.
The phone remains a particularly effective tool for scammers. Many scammers will call and try to impersonate a relative or claim that a grandchild has an emergency medical or legal issue and that a specific amount of money is needed to rectify the situation. This is typically a hard money scam where the perpetrators look to get a specific amount and disappear. Others will call impersonating the IRS, Medicare or some other governmental agency claiming there is an outstanding tax issue or some claim made against an insurance policy. The caller will ask the Senior for their information, typically for their “security.” Once the Senior has given some basic information such as Social Security number and date of birth, scammers can typically fill in the rest. This sets up an information scam where the criminal begins to impersonate the Senior by applying for credit cards, loans, gaining access to bank accounts and investment accounts where the assets can be moved. Or the criminal can turn around and sell the Senior’s information on the so-called dark web. That information may be sold several times resulting in financial devastation for the Senior.
Email scams follow similar patterns however given the ability to track information on the Internet, creative scammers can use legitimate web-based services to target certain audiences. For example, if a Senior got a health-related newsletter and a subgroup of recipients clicked on articles related to curing breast cancer, that subgroup can be targeted for a scam related to a “miracle cure for breast cancer that was just discovered!” If you fit that group and felt there was no hope, you very well may want to literally throw caution to the wind and chase what you think might be your last hope. But now, those criminals know how to target you and will likely build on that knowledge until they gain the information needed to commit identity scams. Email scams are used in both hard money and identity scams because they may get a Senior to buy a bogus product one time, but that transaction can expose financial information to the scammer directly, or perhaps even give the scammer access to the Senior’s computer files, which may also result in identity fraud. Some email scams will simply try to impersonate a financial institution trying to get the Senior to click on a link that may install a virus. The impact of viruses are often not known until the information the criminal is seeking is already exposed and being used. In fact, it is often the discovery of unauthorized financial activity that leads to the victim realizing that something is wrong.
Regular US mail is also a vehicle for scams. Criminals will develop sophisticated looking letterhead to mimic that of a government agency, a utility company, insurance company or a myriad of other businesses often leading the victim to call a number that exists solely for the purpose of executing a scam. Social Security Administration, Medicare and the IRS are frequently copied and used by thieves as are many well-known financial institutions.
There are several measures Senior and family members can take to try and limit the exposure a Senior would have to a potential scam. One of the most important things is what you are doing right now – by reading this article you are raising your awareness and hopefully the awareness of others. Here are some other measures you might want to consider:
- Make sure your Senior(s) has a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for both healthcare and finance. DPOAs for healthcare are being increasingly more involved in the decision making process and might be able to recognize a request for information that doesn’t make sense. DPOA for finance can similarly seek notification or even have to give approval on financial transactions over a certain amount. This of course, would need to be established with the financial institutions with which the Senior does business.
- Enroll your Senior in identity protection services with electronic notifications set up to alert the DPOA or other legal representative, such as a conservator
- Set specific limit amounts per transaction on all credit and debit cards that will request a secondary level of approval before releasing funds
- Have frank and direct conversations with the Seniors in your life about the rise of identity theft and the particular focus on the Senior population.
Scams will always be a part of life, particularly in the digital age. The evolution of technology has only accelerated the reach and the complexity of these scams. Raising awareness and talking to people helps to build a healthy level of skepticism that would allow a target to deny a criminal access to their hard earned money. Crimes of this type against Seniors are particularly hurtful because most Seniors are on fixed incomes and do not have the ability to generate significant income. Strained financial resources will force difficult decisions on Seniors and their families.
Here are some additional online resources about scams targeting Seniors:
United States Senate Special Committee on Aging: https://www.aging.senate.gov/resources
10 Financial scams – The National Council on Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/