5 Fraud Schemes That Target Seniors

It probably wasn’t long after humankind developed its first system of commerce, that someone figured out a way to cheat the system to his own benefit. And there is no doubt that today’s digital world has only increased the number of ways for criminals to take advantage of others.

Sadly, one of the fastest growing areas of fraud involves older adults. Estimates put annual losses at $37 billion for seniors. Even more disheartening is that over 90% of fraud is perpetrated by family members.

To protect yourself and your loved ones, be aware of these common schemes so that you can more easily identify them as they are happening.

  1. The Bail Request: In this scheme, the imposter calls claiming to be a grandchild needing cash to either bail himself out of jail or pay off hospital bills. Because older adults may not be in frequent contact with all grandchildren and may not recognize voices over the phone, this fraud tactic is often successful. The grandparent, eager to help, arranges for a wire transfer to the “jail” or “hospital.” Posing as family members has become easier to accomplish and more difficult to detect due to the wealth of information con artists can find on social media.
  2. The Old Acquaintance: Someone contacts the senior and says he or she is a former co-worker, neighbor, fellow church member, etc. and asks, “You remember me, right?” The older adult graciously says they do and the fraudster starts forming a relationship that eventually results in a request for money.
  3. Sweepstakes Winner: A “sweepstakes” company sends a letter or makes a call saying that the senior has won a prize or has the opportunity to make an investment that is guaranteed to make a substantial amount of profit. All that’s needed is an up-front payment to continue the process.
  4. Uncle Sam: Someone posing as a Medicare or IRS representative calls and insists that the senior give out personal information to fix a problem or make an appointment.
  5. Lonely Hearts Club: After joining a dating website, the senior is contacted by someone posing as an eligible suitor and forms a relationship online. Eventually, the back-and-forth chatter culminates in a request for a romantic meeting. All the fraudster needs is a little financial help to cover travel expenses.

These examples are just a few of the many ways thieves look to deceive older adults, and there are undoubtedly many spin-offs that closely resemble these scams. The best way to protect yourself is to verify everything that someone says through a third party or resource and to remind yourself that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Call friends or family members to ask whether they remember so-and-so, or whether a family member is in trouble financially. Never send money for an investment that purports to be guaranteed to return an abnormally high rate with little risk. Automatically be on your guard when someone contacts you out of the blue or suddenly wants to form a close relationship after little or no communication previously. Additionally, understand that Federal agencies, such as the IRS, do not initiate contact via phone and request personal information.

If you have a relationship with an older adult, watch for warning signs such as him or her mentioning new friends or investment opportunities. Remember that many seniors are lonely, and enjoy attention from others, even strangers or formerly estranged family members. If you have knowledge of the elder adult’s finances, watch for unusual money movements (such as suspicious wire transfers) or for frequent, small checks to questionable nonprofits or investments that could be a test for a more substantial request down the road. Also, monitor relationships with “newly discovered” relatives or friends, and ask questions if you see frequent or large gifts to them.

If starting an online relationship, be especially cautious. It’s easy for people to create entire fake identities on social media. It’s also relatively easy to discover personal details about seniors if they have not made their pages private.

Staying alert to fraud attempts for you and for your loved ones will help deter would-be thieves from taking advantage of your trust and confidence.