Aviva is committed to the health and wellbeing of seniors, and one area where we want to raise awareness is senior fraud or scams that target older adults. Fraud usually involves stealing, cheating or coercing a senior citizen out of money. Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse. According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, scammers cheat senior citizens out of $2.9 billion per year. Studies put the average senior fraud loss anywhere from $34,200 to $120,000.
With a threat so rampant and potentially harmful, we are sharing this information to help seniors recognize and avoid scammers.
Why Do Scammers Target Seniors?
Getting caught up in a scam is not a reflection of the victim’s intelligence. On the contrary, victims of senior fraud tend to be well-educated, informed and active. Some seniors decide against reporting fraud because they fear it makes them look foolish. Actually, they are likely just unprepared or unaware of certain vulnerabilities.
Wealth and Location
The two oldest living generations have accumulated vast wealth in the past few decades. Florida has the largest percentage of its population over age 65 (20 percent) of any state. Add those factors together, and scammers see a lucrative potential target in Florida’s aging population.
Less experience with technology can make seniors less likely to spot a fake email, text message, or Facebook message. A fraudulent request can appear to come from a friend or family member, from a bank, from a government agency, or from a familiar business. Similarly, seniors are more likely to answer the phone than younger generations, even when they don’t know who is calling. People of all ages can be misled, but criminals often target seniors, expecting this group to be less tech savvy.
Memory issues or cognitive disabilities heighten the risk that someone will become a victim since it can be more challenging for them to remember people or previous interactions. Unfortunately, scammers know how to exploit confusion and lapses in memory.
6 Types of Senior Fraud
Many scammers target homeowners, so living in a senior independent or assisted living community eliminates that particular type of risk. In addition, the staff of a senior community are in a unique position, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, to quickly notice signs that a senior is being harmed financially and take action to help.
Still, there are many ways that scammers might target residents of a senior community. Here are some of the top types of senior fraud to be aware of.
1. Medicare scams
Someone claiming to be from Medicare will contact a senior asking them to update their personal information, or informing them of an outstanding medical bill.
2. Prescription drug scams
Seniors seeking to save money on costly prescription drugs may turn to the internet for less expensive options, only to fall into a trap. Scammers can steal identities and money, sometimes even providing fake drugs, harming the victim’s health.
3. Fake charities
Many seniors generously support nonprofit organizations, but not all of them are real. Someone may reach out by phone or email, or even stop a senior in person in a public space, claiming to represent a charity, but actually pocketing the money.
4. Sweepstakes and contests
A senior may receive a notification, by phone, mail, email or social media, that they have won something. In order to claim the “prize,” they must hand over personal information — which can be used for identity theft — or even make a payment.
5. Financial exploitation
In this type of financial fraud, someone the senior knows offers to take responsibility for some or all of their finances. They can then withdraw money from accounts for their own use, neglect to pay bills, and ruin the senior’s credit. These cases can be especially heartbreaking since the perpetrator claims to care about the victim.
6. Grandchild scams
Someone claiming to be a grandchild or other younger relative will call a senior, usually talking quickly and feigning great distress. These scammers can even use tricks like voice alteration and phone number “spoofing,” where they appear to call from the grandchild’s actual phone number.
These are only a few of the ways that scammers might target seniors. It is wise to stay on the lookout for anyone dishonestly seeking money or information. Fortunately, there are protections in place and steps to help prevent fraud.
How to Protect Yourself Against Scams
Florida law seeks to protect seniors through Chapter 415 of Title XXX, Adult Protective Services, and Chapter 825 of Title XLVI, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Elderly Persons and Disabled Adults. These statutes define abuse and exploitation of seniors and lay out the penalties. Remember, however, the perpetrators only get justice if their crimes are reported, so speak up for yourself.
Follow these guidelines to help avoid falling victim to senior scammers:
- Check your credit report on a regular basis to look for anomalies. Many credit card companies offer credit reporting as a service to customers.
- Always ask charities or nonprofits for their Federal Tax ID number, and research them on a website like Charity Navigator before contributing.
- Before doing business with any company, check their Better Business Bureau rating either online or by calling the BBB directly.
- Never give out any personal information to anyone who contacts you using a phone number or email address you don’t recognize. Look up the company on your own and call them back or send a message through their website.
- Similarly, if anyone calls claiming to be from a utility, healthcare provider, or someone else to whom you owe money, hang up and call back using a phone number you look up yourself.
- If anyone you know, such as a grandchild, calls acting out of character or requesting that you keep their communication secret, follow up to find out if it’s really them.
- If you encounter anything suspicious, at any time, tell a family member or care provider right away.
The good news is, more senior care professionals and financial professionals are being trained to notice signs of senior scams. Together, we can learn and take steps to prevent these crimes.
If you are considering moving to an independent living or assisted living community, feel free to ask about whether the community has experience with senior fraud or scams, among any other questions you may have. Wherever you choose to live in your senior years, you should feel safe and secure.