Elderly scams are the most common form of fraud. Sadly, scam artists relentlessly prey on seniors because they are easy targets; they tend to be gullible, live alone and usually do not have someone watching over their finances regularly. Even though senior fraud is more prevalent than ever, most cases are never reported for a multitude of reasons.
Learn more about how senior citizens lose billions, yet are fearful of reporting fraud.
Seniors Are Fearful of Reporting Fraud
Sadly many senior citizens are fearful of reporting fraud, even though they comprise 65% of fraud victims. Fraud can happen to wealthy seniors, and those of limited means; and most of them are embarrassed and don’t feel they have the resources to report the incident or try to get their money back.
In fact, even though an estimated $36 billion worth of financial exploitation a year towards seniors has been reported, according to a recent USA Today article, only one out of every 24 cases is reported. Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area of Agencies on Aging says this is due to embarrassment, fear or lack of evidence. She notes,
“Seniors may be fearful that if they report they have been duped, somebody may say, ‘It is time for mom to move out of her house,’ and again, most older adults don’t want to move out of their house.”
Financial exploitation is the most frequently reported form of abuse against adults as one in five has been financially exploited, with the average victim losing $120,303, according to a study by the American Association of Retired Americans Bank Safe Initiative. Studies show con artists are more likely to target senior citizens than other age groups because they believe seniors are more susceptible to such scams.
The FTC reports that fraudulent telemarketers direct from 56-80% of their calls to seniors, making the need for senior fraud prevention greater than ever. There are ways to prevent senior fraud, though. Seniors, their families and their caregivers just need to be cognizant of how to avoid senior fraud.
Senior Fraud Prevention Tips
Education is king when it comes to avoiding fraud. Seniors are often vulnerable to cons and scammers for many reasons, including impaired judgment from cognitive impairment, financial ignorance and loneliness. Being aware of these scams can help you protect your elderly parents so that they do not fall victim to fraud and and can be spared not only heartache, but also financial duress.
Here are four ways seniors, their families and their caregivers can help protect the aging population from fraud:
1. Be aware that you are at risk from both strangers and those close to you.
Often times elder abuse is committed by the senior’s own family members as they are most familiar with their finances and personal information. Most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, among others, according to the National Council on Aging. Tactics include the following:
- Depleting a joint checking account
- Forms of abuse
- Neglect of basic care needs
- Outright theft
- Promising but not delivering care in exchange for money or property
Strangers also prey on seniors because of their vulnerability, so it’s important to be aware of the most common scams targeting seniors.
2. Avoid isolation by staying involved.
Isolation is a huge risk for elder abuse as most family violence occurs behind closed doors. Many seniors withdraw from their communities for a number of reasons, including depression, lack of transportation or a physical disability. Many seniors are simply fearful of leaving the comfort of their own homes. Visit your local senior center to learn about transportation and social services available to seniors, or view the Eldercare Locator to find services that can help your elderly loved one stay active.
3. Be forthright with solicitors.
Always tell solicitors: “I never buy from (or give to) anyone who calls or visits me unannounced. Send me something in writing.” Seeing written material about the fundraiser or charity helps to both validate that it’s legitimate, as well as avoids seniors providing personal banking information from their credit cards or checks to solicitors. Of course neighborhood children you know who are selling Girl Scout cookies or school fundraising forms are different, so just be discerning and help to educate your elderly loved ones.
It’s also a good practice to obtain the following from a salesperson:
- Business identity
- Business license number
- Street address
- Telephone number
4. Shred all receipts with a credit card number.
Identity theft is a huge problem and shredding receipts and mail, such as bank and credit card statements, that have your credit card number is important. Monitor yours and your loved ones’ bank and credit card statements and never give out personal information over the phone to someone who initiates contact or seems suspicious.
5. Sign up for the “Do Not Call” list and remove yourself from mailing lists.
Visit “Do Not Call” to stop telemarketers from contacting you or your elderly loved one. Being careful with mail is also important. Do not let incoming mail sit in the mailbox for a long time, and when sending out sensitive mail, consider dropping it off at the post office. Regularly monitoring crediting ratings and /or incorrect information can also be helpful.
6. Use direct deposit.
Direct deposit is an easy way to ensure checks go directly into accounts and are protected so that you don’t need to worry about scammers or scrupulous loved ones who have been known to steal benefit checks out of mailboxes or even from seniors’ homes.
7. Never give banking, credit card, Medicare, social security or other personal info.
Misuse of Medicare dollars is one of the largest scams involving seniors. Common schemes include billing for services never delivered and selling unneeded devices or services to beneficiaries. Protect your Medicare number as you do your banking and social security numbers and do not allow anyone else to use it. Be wary of salespeople trying to sell you something they claim will be paid for by Medicare.
Review your Medicare statements to be sure you have in fact received the services billed, and report suspicious activities to 1-800-MEDICARE.
Stay Educated on the Latest Scams
Unfortunately, fraud against older Americans is a serious problem affecting thousands every year. Many senior centers are trying to educate the public about the growing problem by discussing signs of financial exploitation and equipping people with resources.
Many seniors grew up during a time when they trusted people. Mark Shea, director of York County Area Agency on Aging notes:
“The world is vastly different today. Scammers often acquire information about their victims by scouting neighborhoods and going through trash. Families should keep an open relationship with their loved ones and watch out for changes or anxiousness as these are all common signs there is a problem.”
If seniors don’t have a family to support them, educating themselves is also key. To stay on top of the very latest scams hitting seniors, sign up for scam alerts from the National Consumer Protection Bureau.
Have you or an elderly loved one been affected by a scam or been fearful of reporting fraud? Share your story or your tips about how to avoid these scams in the comments below.