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Protecting Older Adults: A Guide to Senior Scams

Elderly woman talking on phone at home, potential senior scam or fraud situation.

As our loved one’s age, they become increasingly vulnerable to a variety of scams that specifically target older adults. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), in 2023, scams reported by those over the age of 60 topped $3.4 billion, marking an almost 11% increase in reported losses from 2022.

Seniors are prone to this type of financial fraud for a variety of reasons. From phone calls pretending to be from government agencies to online phishing schemes, senior citizens are often the targets of fraudsters looking to exploit their trust and, in many cases, their savings. It’s essential to be aware of these scams and take proactive steps to protect our elderly friends and family members. In this blog, we’ll help you understand why they are the targets, what these common senior scams are and how to prevent them.

Why Are Seniors Susceptible to Scams?

Trusting Nature: Whether due to changes in cognitive function that make it difficult to recognize trustworthy individuals or simply because they are accustomed to friendly interactions, seniors tend to be more trusting. As a result, they are more likely to believe someone who appears trustworthy, making them easy targets for scammers who know how to exploit this trust.

Isolation: Many seniors live alone or have limited social interaction, making them more susceptible to scams. Fraudsters often prey on this isolation, knowing that seniors may be more eager for conversation and less likely to hang up the phone or delete an email from a stranger.

Lack of Tech Savvy: Seniors tend to be newer to using technology and fraudsters often create scams to take advantage of their lack of computer skills.

Financial Stability: Seniors may have a lifetime of savings, making them attractive targets for scammers looking to make a quick profit. Additionally, older adults may be less likely to report scams out of embarrassment or fear of losing their independence.

Common Senior Scams

According to the FBI’s Annual Elder Fraud Report, some of the common frauds targeting adults over 60 include:

  1. Government Impersonation Scam: In a government impersonation scam, also known as government imposter scams, fraudsters target unsuspecting older adults by pretending to be representatives from well-known government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration, or Medicare. They often create a sense of urgency by threatening victims with arrest or prosecution if they do not immediately pay an alleged unpaid tax. Alternatively, scammers may threaten to cut off Medicare or Social Security benefits unless the older adult provides personal information.
  2. Tech Support Scam: Technical support scams prey on older people’s lack of knowledge about computers and cybersecurity. In 2023, nearly 18,000 victims aged 60 and over reported a tech related scam. Criminals pose as technology support representatives and often offer to fix non-existent computer issues or state that an older adult’s device is damaged and needs to be fixed. The scammers gain remote access to victims’ devices and sensitive information.
  3. Investment Scam: In 2023, investment scams were the costliest kind of senior scam. This type of scam typically involves a fraudster offering low risk investments with guaranteed returns. They ask victims to act quickly, often stating this is a limited time opportunity and disappear after receiving the money. Investment scams are often advanced fee frauds, Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes, market manipulation fraud, real estate investing, and trust-based investing such as cryptocurrency investment scams.  
  4. Romance Scams: In a romance scam, also known as a sweetheart scam, fraudsters create fake online profiles on dating sites and social media to prey on older adults’ loneliness or desire to find a companion to form romantic relationships with older adults. Once they have gained the victim’s trust, they ask for money for various reasons, such as medical emergencies or travel expenses. 

Tips to Prevent Senior Scams 

  • Research Thoroughly Before Taking Action: Just because something looks real, does not mean that it is. Search online for the contact information (name, email, phone number, addresses) and the proposed offer. Other people have likely posted information online about individuals and businesses trying to run scams. 
  • Consult with Trusted Individuals Before Making Financial Decisions: Before making significant financial decisions, consult with trusted family members, friends, or even staff at Park View to ensure that you’re making the right choice.  
  • Resist the Pressure to Act Quickly: Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action.  
  • Be Skeptical of Unsolicited Offers: Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door services offers. 
  • Avoid Sharing Personal Information: Never give or send any personally identifiable information, including social security numbers, PIN numbers, or bank account information. Additionally, do not send money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses. 
  • Be Wary of Caller ID: Scammers can easily spoof phone numbers to make it appear as if they’re calling from a legitimate organization. 
  • Be Cautious with Unsolicited Messages: Don’t download files or click on links in unsolicited texts, emails, or social media messages. 

Help Protect Your Loved Ones from Senior Scams  

Having conversations about scams that target seniors with your loved ones is crucial. While it may not always be the most enjoyable topic, it’s a powerful way to show them how much you care. By working together, we can recognize the signs, prevent senior scams, and ensure the safety and security of our elderly loved ones. 

What to Do If You or Your Loved Ones Have Been Scammed 

If you encounter a scam, don’t be embarrassed or afraid to report the scam that you were involved in. Your report could prevent others from falling victim to the same fraudsters. Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and also consider calling the National Elder Fraud Hotline 833-372-8311. If the activity is related to one of your Park View Federal Credit Union accounts, please contact us directly. If it is related to another financial institution, your credit card company, or any other organization, contact them directly. 

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