According to the FBI and the National Council on Aging (NCOA), United States seniors are particularly vulnerable to scam artists. The FBI identifies several reasons why seniors are more vulnerable to scam artists than people of other ages:
Politeness. People who are from the “greatest generation” were often taught that manners and civility matter more than being right or winning, especially with authority figures. This makes it very hard for seniors to feel comfortable saying, “no” or hanging up the phone.
Fear of losing independence. Because they don’t want to admit vulnerability or frailty and are worried about losing control in their lives, seniors are unlikely to report fraud. Further, they may not know how to report it. Much information today is accessed electronically; therefore, older people who aren’t skilled in using technology may not have easy ways of figuring out how to report fraud, even if they want to.
Homeowners. Of all citizens, older people are more likely to have great credit, own their own home and have significant savings. These features make them lucrative targets for scam artists.
Cognitive and sensory deficits. Decreased vision, hearing and memory problems can make elderly victims unreliable witnesses when they do report crimes. It may take a long time for victims to realize they have been scammed and by the time they realize it and details may be fuzzy in their memories.
According to the FBI, services and products pledging to increase physical strength, reduce cancer risk, improve cognitive function are attractive traps for people who are elderly.
NCOA identifies types of scams that people over the age of 65 are particularly vulnerable to:
Burial and funeral services and supplies. It is not uncommon for funeral service companies to prey on elderly customers by padding funeral services with unnecessary items and services. Con artists have been known to peruse obituaries and burial notices to find easy targets for their scams.
Internet phishing. Internet con artists have gotten quite sophisticated at making emails appear authentic and official, everything from engaging readers to update their personal information, verify purchases and even pay taxes to the IRS.
Medicare, insurance and prescription drug services. Health care expenses such as Insurance, medication and Medicare to be a large part of seniors’ financial expenses. Phone and email are used to engage seniors in scams related to “saving money” or purchasing better products related to insurance and medication.
Investment, sweepstakes and lottery scams. Most people who are aging have a strong desire to leave their surviving family members a financial legacy. This makes them more susceptible to investment and lottery scams which can be sold over the phone or via email.
Mortgage or reverse mortgage fraud. Many seniors have a fear of outliving their financial resources. It can be easy for con artists to leverage this fear and sell unnecessary and costly mortgages and reverse mortgages to elderly people.
Grandchildren cons. Finally, there is no one grandparents love more than their grandchildren. A growing scam is phone or email impersonation of a beloved grandchild reporting that the person is in legal or financial danger and is in need of immediate financial assistance. The elderly person is required to send money to bail their loved one out of the difficult circumstance.
As with almost anything, the best way to help your loved one avoid becoming a victim to scams is to talk about the problem. Share with them information about types of scams and how and why they might be vulnerable to fraud. Staying connected with and interacting frequently with your aging loved ones can also help you stay on top of cognitive or sensory declines that may need they could use some assistance or oversight with activities they previously managed independently.