No one is immune to online scams and identity theft, including senior citizens.
According to research by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation, people over the age of 65 are more likely to have lost money due to a financial scam than someone in their 40s.
Most online fraud victims are considered to be in the naive segments of the population. The elderly are targeted as they may be lonely, willing to listen and are more trusting than younger individuals.
Many fraud schemes against the elderly are performed over the telephone, door-to-door or through advertisements.
Elderly people are prime targets to schemes attributed to credit cards, sweepstakes or contests, charities, health products, magazines, home improvements, equity skimming, investments, banking or wire transfers and insurance.
Earlier this year, Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin said he had noticed elderly residents are the primary targets for identity theft in the area.
“I have families that come to my office and I’m trying to coach people who are the son or daughter of grandma or grandpa who are getting taken advantage of,” Franklin said. “They think that there’s a promise of people saying you’re going to win hundreds or thousands of dollars and they’re giving out all this information over the telephone.”
Franklin said many unresolved cases involve identity theft.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported in 2017 financial institutions filed more than 63,000 elder financial exploitation Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) detailing $1.7 billion in potential fraud to the government.
Those SARs are turned over to law enforcement to assist in identifying suspects.
“We have found elderly people are not targeted more than younger people,” said Evey Owen, interim director of communications for AARP of Alabama. “What we do know is as a person’s age goes up the loss goes up. People of a certain generation have respect for authority, so if they receive a call that sounds official, those people will take it more serious.”
According to a 2018 report released by Consumer Sentinel Network and referenced by Owen, Alabama ranks 11th in America for reports of fraud per 100,000 population and the total amount lost to fraud was $9.9 million by Alabama residents.
The National Council on Aging advises people to be aware of the following scams targeting the elderly.
- Medicare: Fraudsters pose as Medicare representatives to get seniors to give them their personal information such as their Medicare identification number. The fraudster then uses this information to bill Medicare for fraudulent services and pockets the money.
- Counterfeit prescription drugs: Seniors may look the internet to find cheaper prices on costly medications. Fraudsters are aware of this and set up fake websites that advertise cheap prescription drugs which are usually counterfeit. Seniors unknowingly purchase the counterfeit drugs. Seniors realize they have been duped when the drugs do not provide any relief from their medical condition or even cause additional health problems.
- Funerals: Fraudsters cull obituaries to find information about deceased individuals in attempts to extort money from family members or grieving spouses. They claim the deceased has an outstanding debt that must be paid. Those close to the deceased are usually in a vulnerable state and are more likely to pay the fraudulent debt.
- Anti-aging products: Scammers advertise anti-aging products that are worthless or harmful. Some products might contain materials that can be harmful, yet touted by scammers as being as effective as a brand name product, such as Botox.
- Phone calls: Phone scams are the most common scams used against the elderly. Scammers might get seniors to wire or send them money by claiming to be a family member who is in trouble and needs money. They might also solicit money from the elderly by posing as a fake charity, especially after a natural disaster.
- Internet: Because the elderly are usually not as savvy with handling emails and using the internet, they are easy targets for scammers. Victims have been tricked into downloading fake anti-virus software that allows scammers access to personal information on their computers. Seniors might also respond to phishing emails sent by scammers asking them to update their bank or credit card information on a phony website.
- The grandparent scam: In a grandparent scam, a scammer calls an older person and pretends to be their grandchild. They ask them if they know who is calling, and when the grandparent guesses the name of one of their grandchildren, the caller pretends to be that grandchild. The scammer tells the grandparent they are in some sort of financial bind and asks if they can send money using Western Union or MoneyGram to help them out. The scammer asks the grandparent not to tell anyone about their situation. Once the scammer receives the money, he continues to contact the grandparent and asks them to send more money.