Dubbed by many as the crime of the 21st century, financial scams against seniors have grown in prevalence significantly over the last decade. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), one in every 20 seniors falls victim to some kind of financial exploitation. It’s a sad reality that in today’s society, we need to be concerned about the financial safety of our older loved ones.
Senior living expert Heather O’Banion, Executive Director of Village Manor, a Christian Care Community in Bowling Green, KY, says scammers target seniors in particular for many reasons. “Seniors make ideal targets for financial scams and identity theft because it’s assumed that seniors have a lot of money stashed away in savings accounts and investment funds,” O’Banion explains. “Not only are they targeted for their perceived assets, but for their vulnerability as well.
“Most older adults grew up in a time when it was easier to trust others not to take advantage of you. Scammers often think of seniors as trusting and gullible, and it’s true that many seniors have a hard time keeping up with today’s advancing technology. Scammers capitalize on that. Also, those with cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s struggle to use sound judgement and can easily be exploited by fraud.”
If you have an older loved one who may be at risk of financial abuse, or you want to learn more about protecting yourself and your assets, learning to recognize scammers’ tactics is the first step in the fight against fraud.
Common Scamming Tactics Used on Seniors
Another advantage scammers have when it comes to exploiting seniors is their targets’ accessibility. Older adults are often actively connected to programs involved with their retirement, whether those be health and life insurance, refinancing for retirement or selling their home to move to an assisted living community. Scammers have crafted several ways of getting their hands on seniors’ personal information. A few of the popular tactics include:
Medicare Scams – Scammers pose as representatives on the phone and ask for their target’s personal information, or scam artists provide fake services at a makeshift clinic, bill Medicare using the senior’s information and pocket the money.
Counterfeit Prescription Drugs – Scammers will sell bogus drugs over the Internet to seniors looking for lower prices for their prescriptions. Sometimes, these drugs are made of harmful substances that can seriously harm the victim.
Funeral Scams – Disreputable funeral agencies have taken advantage of a deceased person’s family by capitalizing on their unfamiliarity with funeral costs, overcharging them or insisting they pay for products and services they don’t need.
Telemarketing Scams – Scammers will call targets pretending to be representatives from the IRS, their insurance company or hospitals, insisting that they provide their personal information and bank account information or wire money in order to avoid an issue. Others may even pretend to be the person’s grandchild and ask them to wire them money to help them out of trouble.
Internet Fraud – Scammers create false advertisements for anti-virus software or prizes that, when clicked on, download a virus that takes personal information off the computer. Others will sell fake programs for a significant cost and con their victims.
Investment Schemes – As seniors look for ways to invest their money for their later years or to pass on to children, scammers jump in with too-good-to-be-true investment opportunities.
Sweepstakes & Lottery Schemes – Scammers call to announce that their target has won a significant prize, and all they need to do is pay a fee or verify their personal information in order to claim it.
Once a scammer has access to a person’s bank account information, credit card number or social security number, they can steal their victims’ identity and wipe their accounts dry. Victims of this kind of financial abuse often have no way of recovering their lost assets, so the best way to protect seniors against this kind of fraud is to prevent it from working.
Preventing Financial Abuse and Scams
Awareness and caution are some of the greatest tools seniors can wield against the onslaught of scammers out there. When you know how to recognize a scam, you’re more likely to know when it’s time to hang up the phone or question the scammer’s authority. Other great ways to keep scammers away and protect your finances, include regularly checking your account transactions and balances, getting Caller ID or signing up for the Do Not Call list, only using trusted and secure websites or purchasing identity theft protection.
If you’re caring for an older loved one who may be more vulnerable to scams due to cognitive decline, you can still help keep their finances secure. In addition to the strategies above:
Talk to them about scam tactics. Warn them never to give out personal information over the phone or wire money to someone they do not know. Help them avoid Internet scams by bookmarking the websites they use frequently (such as email) and blocking pop-ups.
Keep an eye on their financial activity. Ask to see their bank statements or credit card bills regularly. If you think your loved one is very much at risk, consider becoming their guardian so you can protect their finances and assets.
If someone comes into your loved one’s house to clean or care for them, make sure you interview them thoroughly first to ensure they are trustworthy. Not all financial scams occur over the phone or on the Internet. Sometimes, those who seniors think they can trust the most are the ones who have the greatest ability to exploit them.
Stay Safe from Scams
“If you ever think that you or a loved one has fallen victim to identity theft, fraud, scams or any other form of financial abuse, don’t hesitate to report it,” says O’Banion. “Call the police or your local Adult Protective Services agency. Every report can help law enforcement track down and stop scams from happening in the future.
“Like other kinds of abuse, financial abuse is a personal attack that can leave the victim feeling ashamed, depressed or even more vulnerable. Because of this, fraud against seniors often goes unreported. However, recovering from a scam requires support, so don’t be afraid to tell someone who can help you. If you have a loved one who you suspect has been scammed, encourage them to talk to you about it, and ensure them that you will help them avoid another attack.”
If you would like more information on senior security threats or guidance on what to do if your loved one is a victim of a scam, the team at Village Manor can offer the help and resources you need. Contact us today.
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