According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 5% of Americans over 60 fall victim to fraud and scams. The problems add up to almost $3 billion in financial losses for older Americans each year. I am aware of two cases that occurred with the older relatives of my friends. In one case, a woman in her eighties was tricked into giving part of her land away to a neighbor. The problem is so wide spread that you probably wouldn’t need to look far to find a senior fraud or scam victim among your friends and family.
Why are criminals targeting seniors?
Why are seniors such frequent targets for scams and fraudsters? Here are a few of the reasons:
- Many seniors are perceived to be sitting on a wealth of money in the form of savings and investments accumulated over a lifetime of hard work. Additionally, older Americans may outright own or have substantial equity in their homes.
- Senior fraud is hard to investigate and prosecute.
- Seniors can be trusting and polite. They may find it difficult to say no. They might just be lonely and welcome the chance to talk with someone over the phone or in their home.
- Older Americans are less likely to report scams and fraud because they are embarrassed or they or the perpetrator is a friend or family member. Some seniors are afraid that family members will think they are incapable of managing their money.
- Seniors can be easy prey for relatives or friends they trust.
- Some seniors suffer from some form of cognitive impairment and are easily confused by the people who after their money.
- There may be a long gap in time between the moment the senior is swindled and the time they realize they have been victimized.
How can you protect yourself?
There are some effective steps you can take to reduce your risk of falling victim to fraud and scams. Consider some of the following:
- Keep involved with friends, family and your community. Tell your friends and family members about what is happening in your life and about any financial business you’re considering.
- Do not buy anything from someone that comes to your home or calls your phone without you asking them to call or visit.
- Have retirement payments and benefit checks direct deposit into your bank account.
- Never give financial and personal information such as your credit card, Social Security, Medicare, or bank account numbers over the phone unless you are the one that initiated the call.
- If someone tells you that you won a big prize, but they ask you for a credit card number, just hang up. You should never have to pay money to claim a prize that you “won”.
- Run any surprise offers or deals that seem too good to be true past your friends and family. Ask for information about the offer and the company in writing.
- If a family member calls and asks you to send money because they are in trouble, verify their request with another family member whom you trust.
- If you are confused or are feeling pressured to agree to something in a hurry, stop and wait until a trusted friend or family member can give you their opinion.
- Never sign blank forms. Always read and understand contracts and other forms before you sign them.
What can caregivers and children of seniors do?
If you are a concerned adult child or caretaker for a senior, here are some steps you can take to protect them:
- Keep an open two way conversation about personal finances with your senior. Have a good understanding of their financial situation and look out for unusual activity or comments. If they have given you access to their financial statements or you have a Power of Attorney, review their account statements regularly.
- Place them on the National Do Not Call Registry at https://www.donotcall.gov/ or by calling 888-382-1222.
- Be suspicious if you notice piles of unsolicited offers in their mail or e-mail.
- Be suspicious if you become aware of an increase in unsolicited sales calls being made to their phone.
- Be aware of “new friends” or family members and distant relatives that suddenly want to hang out with grandma or grandpa.
- Talk to them about scams and fraud. Use the local news as a reason to start the conversation. Each time you see a new fraud alert on TV, talk to them about it.
- You should report cases of scams and fraud to the police and your state’s Attorney General’s office immediately.