One of the fastest growing crimes against older Americans is financial scams. One financial firm estimates seniors lose as much as $36.5 million a year. And that may be grossly underestimated, as seniors are often too embarrassed to report the theft.
Financial scammers target seniors because they are believed to have a significant amount of savings. Yet even low-income adults are at risk of abuse. And it’s not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes. Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members.
Here are five of the most common financial scams against seniors.
- Telemarketing fraud. Seniors are comfortable placing orders on the phone and often welcome the company of talking to others. They think nothing of giving someone their credit card or bank account information because they’ve done it before. Once the scammers have this info, they will keep withdrawing funds until the accounts are empty.
- Pigeon Drop. This is another form of telemarketing fraud. Someone calls offering to split a large amount of money if the senior makes a “good faith” deposit into the scammer’s bank account. Similar to the pigeon drop is the Sweepstakes scam. The caller tells the senior they’ve won a large amount of money, but must pay the taxes before the prize can be claimed.
- The grandparent scheme. In this scam, the caller pretends to be a grandchild who is in trouble. They ask for money to be wired to them, but not to let his/her parents know. They want to keep it a secret. Having a soft spot for their grandchildren, they easily comply.
- Fake charities. Most people are sympathetic to children or animals in need. In this scam, the caller claims to be collecting donations on behalf of sick children or some other unfortunate victims. They ask for donations to the charity, which happens to be fake. Scammers run off with the money, and the senior feels useful.
- Medicare scam. Since most seniors are on Medicare, it’s easy for scammers to use this as a ploy. They call to confirm personal information, then use it to steal their identity. Or they use the information to send bogus billing invoices to Medicare through fake clinics.
Unfortunately, scams don’t always end with the initial call. Once one scammer is able to steal money from the senior, they not only call again, but sell the contact info to other scammers. The crimes are sometimes serious enough that the senior’s accounts are completely drained, leaving them penniless.
When a senior lives alone, it’s difficult to monitor their every move. If you know or care for an older adult, here are some warning signs that may indicate they are the victim of financial abuse:
- There are piles of sweepstakes mailings, free gifts and random magazines in their mail.
- Bills aren’t being paid.
- There are unusual changes in their bank accounts, such as withdrawals or ATM transactions.
If you suspect your loved one is a victim of fraud, call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or visit their web site at https://eldercare.acl.gov to find the contact info for your local Adult Protective Services.