Senior abuse in the form of financial scams is a huge problem—especially as scammers are changing tactics and taking advantage of fears and uncertainties. In fact, recent reports say anywhere from 3 billion to 30 billion dollars are lost every year as a result of senior financial scams. With these high numbers in mind, it’s important that you do your part to help protect your loved ones.
1. Visit Elderly Family Members Regularly
One of the best ways to prevent fraud is to keep in contact with your senior family members. By visiting and talking with them, you can stay up to date on their daily lives and be the first to hear about suspicious new “friends” who might be having an undue influence on their financial decisions.
Seniors who are isolated from their families and don’t have active social lives are often the first targets of scammers, since a senior without a strong support system is more likely to believe a lie and fall victim to fraud.
2. Warn Your Loved One About Common Scams
Most scams happen over the phone or online, as scammers can impersonate people of authority. Scammers will either act charming to influence seniors, or act like there is a serious emergency in order to trick them. Here are a few of the most common elderly scams you can warn your loved one about.
Social Security & IRS Scams
A common scam involves a perpetrator pretending to be an authority from the Social Security office or the IRS. They will tell a victim that there is a major problem with their account, and if they don’t immediately give out personal information to clear up the problem they could face legal action or arrest.
This scam can scare seniors into giving away their Social Security number or banking information to avoid threats. However, it’s important to explain to seniors that the Social Security office and IRS will never threaten someone over the phone, and often don’t reach out by phone at all—especially when asking for personal information.
Some scammers try and take advantage of kind-hearted seniors by pretending to be from a charity asking for donations. Assure your loved one that if they get a call from a charity and want to contribute, there will be other ways they can donate or volunteer their time than by giving out information over the phone.
Internet & Tech Support Scams
Scammers like to take advantage of the lack of knowledge many seniors have surrounding technology. For example, seniors can receive a phone call or pop-up claiming their computer is infected with a virus, and the problem can’t be resolved until the victim verifies their identity by handing over a Social Security number or other piece of information.
Remind your loved one that they should never give out personal information to an unverified source, especially if the other person is making the situation seem suspiciously urgent.
Lottery & Fake Prize Scams
Another set of scams are lottery and prize scams. These will try to convince seniors to hand over a small amount of money for “taxes and fees” with the promise that a larger amount of winnings and prizes will be given to the victim after the first transaction clears. Tell your loved one that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
These scams involve a perpetrator pretending to be a family member who is in an emergency and needs quick money. Often they say that they need money immediately to cover rent and expenses, lawyer fees, bail, or medical bills. They will request that the victim keep this transaction a secret from the rest of the family out of shame or embarrassment.
To protect your loved one, tell them to ensure they are speaking to someone they know and can verify that the situation is legitimate. If they aren’t certain, have them hang up and call a trusted family member.
3. Always Advise Caution with Finances
While you don’t want to frighten your loved one into never making a transaction again, it’s important they are aware of the dangers of financial scams and that they can be a target. Come up with a plan together, and include things like:
- Blocking solicitation calls with the help of an app or phone provider
- Having your loved one call you before agreeing to anything suspicious
- Talking to their bank to see what measures can be taken to limit the damage of a scam
- Creating a separate bank account that houses a majority of their savings that isn’t connected to a card or their primary checking account
- Setting a spending limit on debit cards
While seniors can be targeted by strangers, most elder financial abuse comes from other family members, so keep an eye on anyone who becomes too invested in your loved one’s financial situation. If you or your loved one believes they have been targeted by a scammer, report it to the police immediately or call the number below to talk through the options for reporting fraud.
AARP Fraud Watch Network Hotline (877-908-3360)