According to the FBI and FTC, online scams against the elderly have increased five times since 2014. It represents almost 650 million dollars in losses. These numbers only include self-reported instances. There are many reasons while scammers target the elderly: they tend to be more trusting, they are less tech-savvy and they are less likely to report an incident.
The best way to protect your loved ones is to understand the most common scams on the elderly. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), these include the following:
Phone and Telemarketing Scams
Elderly people make twice as much over-the-phone purchases than any other group age in America. Because there’s no paper trail or face-to-face interaction, telephone scams are extremely difficult to trace. There are many forms of over-the-phone scams, but the most common are:
- The grandson (or another family member) asking for money.
- Winning the lottery or prize –usually a cruise or international vacation– that requires them to send “processing money.”
- Charities soliciting money, especially after a natural disaster.
- IRS officials who call them and ask for personal information. This scam is especially common during filing season, and it attempts to file taxes on their behalf. Because they have their social security number, they can open fraudulent accounts on their behalf.
As a rule of thumb, ask your elderly relatives to avoid making any financial transactions over the phone. Explain that no government agency asks for personal information over the phone. If they need to purchase something, it’s better to ask for help.
Rosie got an email from a friend (she recognized the email address) telling her she was stranded in a foreign country after being robbed. In the email, her “friend” told her that her ids were stolen, but a good man was helping her, and she could wire money to him. She assured her that this man was a part of a charitable organization helping people in her condition, and even included a link to their website. After a few weeks, Rosie bumped into her friend at the market. As it turns out, she had never been out of the country. Her email was hacked. Rosie lost money, and her email was also hacked when she clicked the link to the “organization” that was supposed to help her friend.
Other forms of email scams include Nigerian princes wanting to donate money, government agencies asking for their personal information, and banks asking for some kind of account verification that requires their passwords or PIN numbers. These are all phishing attempts.
To protect them, ask them to never agree to send money or give personal information through an email link. If they have doubts about the authenticity of a message, they should send it to you first for verification.
Romantic/Online Dating Scams
Lonely senior citizens are prone to fall for romantic scams that start via social media or online dating sites. People who quickly profess their love, without meeting in person are usually scam artists trying to build trust and engage them on elaborate schemes that usually include asking for money to:
- Pay for health-related expenses
- Pay for transportation expenses to meet
- Help them pay for outstanding debt to stay out of jail
These schemes usually include large sums of money. Scammers may also ask for gifts cards or other goods, which can constitute large sums over time. If your elderly relative wants to try online dating, keep an eye on them. If they fall in love quickly and with someone they’ve never met, chances are, they are being targetted by scammers.
What to Do If They are Victims
If you suspect that your elderly relative is a victim of online scammers, report it here. It’s recommended to include as much information as possible, including:
- Dates of contact
- Scammer names/company names
- Detailed descriptions of interactions
- Methods of payment, account numbers, email addresses, and phone numbers.