Do you have a friend or family member over the age of 60? There’s a good chance they’ve already been targeted for some type of financially related fraud scheme. Among our aging population, instances of financial fraud are increasing rapidly, and one thing we can all do is educate ourselves, so we’re better equipped to proactively talk with those we care about to help them understand how to avoid this type of threat (or feel less alone in the case they’ve already been targeted).
The Impact is Real
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), while older adults are less likely than younger adults to report fraud, when they do, the amount reported is substantially higher.
In fact, in 2021, the FTC reported the following:
- Consumers who are 80 and older reported losing a median of $1,300 to fraud
- Adults in their seventies reported a median loss of $650
- Adults in their sixties reported a median loss of $449
The frequency of fraud and abuse targeting older adults demands our unwavering commitment to protecting these vulnerable individuals. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), financial scams targeting senior citizens cost them around $3 billion annually.
As a financial institution, we believe it is critical for us to raise awareness about this pressing issue so we can help mitigate the prevalence of fraud and abuse targeting older adults. So, in this article, we will further discuss the fraud and abuse that senior citizens often face and dive into preventive measures to help safeguard their financial activities.
Common types of elder abuse scams
By understanding some of the common tactics used by scammers to target senior citizens, we can help stop fraud in its tracks. According to the FTC, here are a few of the most common types of scams targeted toward older adults:
- Grandparent Scams: Scammers are notorious for preying on the emotions and vulnerabilities of unsuspecting individuals, and one particularly heart-wrenching scheme that has gained prominence in recent years is the "grandparent scam." This deceptive tactic specifically targets seniors by exploiting their love for their grandchildren. According to the FTC, reported losses from grandparent scams reached $41 million in 2020, with the average loss per victim exceeding $9,000.
- Medicare Fraud: Older adults are often targeted with fraudulent schemes promising exclusive benefits, fake healthcare services, or unnecessary medical equipment, resulting in financial loss and compromised healthcare.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states that healthcare fraud, including Medicare fraud, costs the U.S. healthcare system tens of billions of dollars annually. The consequences of Medicare fraud extend beyond financial losses. It leads to higher healthcare costs, compromised patient care, and a loss of trust in the healthcare system.
- Technology Scams: As technology advances and becomes an integral part of our daily lives, it also brings forth new challenges and risks, especially for vulnerable populations like senior citizens. Older adults are increasingly targeted by tech-savvy fraudsters who exploit their limited knowledge of digital platforms. According to the FTC, older adults are five times more likely to report losing money on tech support scams.
What are some specific examples of older adult schemes?
While there are numerous examples of what an older adult scam may look like, here are a couple examples we have heard about from our own members:
Example of a grandparent scam:
An older individual may receive a phone call from someone claiming to be their grandchild, using statements such as, “Grandma/Grandpa, it’s me. I need help.” By doing this, the scammer will use emotional manipulation to try to convince the grandparent that their grandchild is being held for ransom, or that they are otherwise distressed, upset, or in trouble financially. Often times, this scammer will also add urgency and prevent the older adult from verifying the caller’s identity, causing them to fall for their scheme under pressure.
A common technology scam:
An older adult who is new to social media may receive a friend request from an unfamiliar profile claiming to be an old friend. The friend may work to aim the older adult’s trust and then make up a story about health problems or some other kind of emergency, then plead for money.
What are potential signs an older person is or could be scammed?
According to the FTC, there are several signs that an older person may be falling victim to a scam. It's important to be vigilant and look out for warning signs, such as:
- Unsolicited phone calls or emails: If the person receives frequent unsolicited calls or emails asking for personal information, financial details, or offering too-good-to-be-true deals, it could be a red flag.
- High-pressure tactics: Scammers often use aggressive or urgent language to create a sense of urgency. They may claim that immediate action is required to avoid negative consequences, such as legal trouble or financial loss.
- Unusual financial activity: If there are unexplained withdrawals, large purchases, or sudden changes in financial behavior, it could indicate that the person has been targeted by scammers.
- Social isolation or secrecy: Scammers may try to isolate the person from their friends and family members to gain control over their actions. They might discourage the person from seeking advice or sharing details of their interactions.
- Lack of knowledge about a supposed deal or investment: If the person seems unaware or unable to explain the details of a deal or investment they have made, it could be a sign that they have fallen victim to a scam.
What happens if an older adult we know fell for a scam?
As a credit union, we are committed to educating and protecting our senior members.
Fraud against older adults is a growing problem that requires awareness, education, and vigilance. By staying informed, skeptical, and seeking advice from trusted sources, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from falling victim to scams.
“When a member or member’s older relative has been scammed, the first thing to do is determine what has been exposed,” says Joshua Buck, Advia Credit Union Fraud Specialist. “For example, have they provided personal or account related information to the scamming party, or has the scamming party taken control of a computer, tablet, or phone? If a member has given personal identification information, like a Social Security Number, they should contact the credit bureaus to place an alert or freeze on their credit. Members should also contact Advia to see if adding extra verification to their account would be beneficial. As always, if at any time a member has questions about a situation they think could be a scam, it is important to remember that we are here to help.”
You can help yourself or loved one's fraud report to your financial institution and to the FTC by visiting https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC): https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/protecting-older-consumers-2020-2021-report-federal-trade-commission/protecting-older-consumers-report-508.pdf
National Council on Aging (NCOA): https://www.ncoa.org/older-adults
Federal Bureau of Investigation: https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/white-collar-crime/health-care-fraud
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: https://oig.hhs.gov/fraud/consumer-alerts/