Millions of older Americans fall victim to cybercriminals each year. However, cybercrime reports were at an all-time high last year, as scammers continued to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving spam calls to increase by 22% in 2021. According to data from the FBI and AARP, specific losses from those ages 50 and older exceeded almost $3 billion — a 62% increase from the 2020 report.
While cybercrime is a threat to every person with an online presence, the risk of senior scams is higher. Online scammers target older adults because many have significant financial savings, own a home, have good credit, and are generally trusting and generous. According to the FBI, “Seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how or they may be too ashamed at having been scammed.” However, by learning what to look out for, older adults can help protect themselves and others from falling victim to senior scams.
Cybercriminals deploy a wide range of strategies used to deceive older adults. From posing as a grandchild or family member to representing a charity, their strategies are designed to entice their victims into giving out sensitive information or outright cash. According to the National Council on Aging and the FBI, here are a few of the most common senior scams designed to target older adults:
As older adults look to the internet to find a companion, many are met by scammers. Oftentimes scammers will create fraudulent online profiles on dating sites and social media, tricking their victims into thinking they are someone they are not. These scammers will usually pose as individuals living internationally and ask their victims for money to go toward medical emergencies, visas and airline tickets. Because these scams can be lengthy, they are often the most lucrative. According to the Federal Trade Commission, seniors lost nearly $139 million in 2020, a 65% increase from 2019.
In this situation, a scammer will call an older adult and pose as their grandchild. During the call, the “grandchild” will ask for money to cover an unexpected cost such as a medical bill, rent, or funds to visit the home.
Government impersonation scams
Scammers will identify themselves as government representatives calling from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration, or Medicare. Often these scammers will tell their victims they have unpaid taxes or dues and threaten them with arrest if they don’t provide sensitive information such as a Social Security number.
One of the most common scams directed toward older adults is the sweepstakes scam. Seniors will receive a check they can deposit, claiming that they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes. Once the check has been cashed, they’ll be notified that they owe money to unlock the winnings. Once they send their money in, the check will bounce, and the prize money will be removed from their account.
Criminals target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate offerings and services. For example, some criminals will offer reverse mortgages or credit repair. However, once a payment is received, the criminal disappears without doing what they have promised.
Counterfeit prescription drugs
Because the cost of prescription drugs is rising, some seniors will look online to purchase medication for a lower cost. However, scammers exploit this need by creating false advertisements for counterfeit medications. Seniors soon realize they have been duped when the drugs do not provide any relief from their medical condition.
During the holiday season or after a natural disaster, criminals will contact the elderly by phone, claiming to be a representative of a charity. These scammers will solicit the elderly for a donation to a fake charity.
Anyone at any age can fall victim to a scam. Scammers are professional, efficient and highly manipulative, which makes identifying their suspicious activity difficult at times. Often when seniors fall victim to a scam, it can feel embarrassing to ask for help. As adult children or family members, it’s important to consistently discuss how to identify a scam and look for warning signs in your loved one’s behavior. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, these are a few of the most common warning signs:
It’s important to discuss various scenarios regularly with loved ones and identify how to act in the event of a scam. Here are a few ways to help you with avoiding scams for seniors and protect yourself from fraud:
Living at Maplewood Senior Living gives residents an extra layer of security when it comes to senior scams. Our communities are monitored by security staff who understand the warning signs of elder abuse and potential fraud. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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