While consumers of all ages should be on guard against scams, research shows that seniors are particularly vulnerable to fraud because of changes in the brain, which make it harder for them to detect suspicious body language and other warning signs that someone might be untrustworthy. Other possible factors that make them more vulnerable are that they are isolated, more likely to be home than younger people, inexperienced in managing their finances, or unable to verify and identify scams due to lack of internet access. The elderly are also more likely to be financially scammed by someone they know and trust—a friend, family member, caregiver or other helper.
Some of the most widely perpetrated frauds targeting U.S. seniors include:
- Imposters claiming to be from Medicare or the Social Security Administration requesting personal information or demanding money
- The sale of overpriced, worthless, or dangerous medical devices or prescriptions
- High-fee, unaffordable, and questionable home equity loans that often result in foreclosure
- Imposters pretending that a family member is in trouble and needs money immediately
- Imposters pretending that your deceased loved one owes them money
- The sale of fake burial plots, or high-pressure sales of overpriced funeral services
- The sale of ineffective or harmful anti-aging treatments and products
Other scams to look out for:
- The Pigeon Drop: A con artist tells you that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it with you, if you make a “good faith” payment. A second con artist is often involved posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger.
- The Fake Accident Ploy: The con artist convinces you to wire or send money on the pretext that his/her child (or other relative) is in the hospital and they need the money.
- Charity Scams: Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.
- The Grandparent Scam: Scammers will call a senior and when the mark picks up the phone, they will say “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild, the scammer is “in”. The scammer poses as their grandchild and usually asks for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect.
If you are a victim of a fraud, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk to someone you trust. All states have laws to protect older people from abuse. Doing nothing could only make it worse. Call the Adult Protective Services in your area. You can find your nearest service provider by calling the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116, or visiting their website. In addition to reporting suspected elder fraud to the local adult protective services agency and law enforcement, notify any financial institution holding an account that has been fraudulently accessed.