Advanced age comes with its set of challenges, including health issues, reduced cognition, and social isolation, just to name a few.
All this means that the elderly are a population susceptible to a number of different scams and fraud. The extent of this problem is huge – according to a conservative estimate, seniors lose about $3 billion a year to scammers, while some reports claim that this sum amounts to $37 billion annually.
If you want to help your elderly parents, relatives, or friends keep these scams at bay, it’s important that you understand the reasons and ways they’re targeted. That way, you’ll be one step ahead of con artists preying on them.
Why Do the Elderly Fall Victim to Scams?
Although scammers aren’t very picky when it comes to targeting their victims, elderly people are more susceptible to their schemes. Here’s why it’s more likely for a person over the age of 65 to be scammed out of their money than a person in their 40’s.
As their social circles start shrinking and younger family members become less available due to their hectic schedules, senior citizens succumb to loneliness and isolation. This leaves them eager to make new friends and fail to spot a scammer trying to use this relationship as a way to swindle them out of their money. Also, with no one to check on their finances, it’s easy for a scam to go unnoticed until it’s too late.
Some senior citizens have huge retirement funds at their disposal, so they’re likely to be less strict about their spending and willing to help their “new friend.” On the other hand, some can feel financially insecure, which can make them more likely to be pulled into get-rich-quick, pyramid schemes.
- Lowered cognition
Aging has a significant impact on the brain, as it affects cognitive skills and functioning. Elderly people sometimes suffer from dementia and similar conditions, which makes it difficult for them to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. With the more severe cognitive decline, they might fail to recognize members of their own families, and they usually don’t know how much money they have.
Senior citizens find it hard to admit that they’ve been scammed, as they believe that this would make them look silly. Scammers know this and take advantage of the fact that they won’t be reported to authorities if they trick the elderly.
Let’s discuss some of the most frequent scams affecting senior citizens.
Older generations aren’t particularly tech-savvy. Even if they used to be once, reduced cognitive function that comes naturally with aging can take its toll on their skills and abilities.
Scammers send emails informing their victims that their computer has been infected with a virus and ask them to download a fake anti-virus tool, which is actually malware used for phishing – a tactic for obtaining sensitive information such as social security numbers or passwords. In some cases, malware will download automatically once the email has been opened.
Such tools allow cybercriminals to search through a computer, extract valuable information, or even install ransomware. The latter practically blocks access to files on a computer, with a message that these will be unlocked only after the victim pays the ransom.
Inform your loved ones about all these scams, educate them about how to browse the internet safely, and ask them to get in touch with you whenever they receive a suspicious email or online request.
This is a common scenario – an alleged Medicare representative calls a senior citizen telling them that their Medicare card needs to be replaced or offering a similar fake excuse for calling and asking for personal information.
Gullible and insecure elderly people don’t object to this and willingly provide their Medicare identification number. The information is later used for identity theft and fraudulent purposes that allow scammers to obtain the targeted senior’s money.
Instruct your elderly parents or relatives that they should never reveal their personal information over the phone, even if the caller says that they’re an official agency representative.
Scammers are very well aware that elderly people sometimes can be absent-minded and forgetful.
So, they call an unsuspecting senior citizen, claiming that they’re their grandkid or relative. Social media allows for this – it has never been easier to spy on someone and find out intimate details about their lives.
After establishing this fake identity, the scammer asks their “grandparent” to send them some money via Western Union, because they’re in trouble.
This can be easily avoided by telling your parents to say that they will call back and first check with other relatives whether there’s an emergency. Remind them that an impostor can learn a lot about the actual grandkid from Facebook.
An elderly person is contacted via email or phone and told that they won a prize.
The catch is that they also need to pay a certain fee in order to unlock the prize. Then scammers send a check that will bounce after a couple of days, enough for them to collect “the fee.”
If something sounds too good to be true, it’s most probably fake. Tell your elderly relatives that lottery winners don’t have to pay fees.
Particularly cruel scammers use obituaries to identify who’s recently deceased and then prey on their spouses.
They show up after the funeral, when the victim is still grieving and vulnerable, and say that the deceased owes them money. Being in a state of mourning and shock, the victim agrees to pay the outstanding debt.
Tell your aging relatives not to trouble themselves with financial matters at a time of grief, and leave these kinds of issues to a family member who’s more calm and collected.
Generally speaking, the elderly can avoid these scams by not providing their personal information to strangers, deleting unsolicited emails, and having a close relative to turn to when in doubt about money matters. As caregivers and family members, our job is to be there for them to provide support and help them avoid being deceived.