Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered the crime of the 21st century.
It’s not just wealthy seniors who are targeted for financial abuse, low-income older adults are also at risk. It is important to know and recognize the many different types of scams out there, to help you or your loved one avoid falling victim to them.
IRS Impersonation Scams
The IRS released the following tips to help taxpayers identify suspicious calls that may be associated with the IRS imposter scam:
- The IRS will never call a taxpayer to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill to the taxpayer.
- The IRS will never demand that a taxpayer pay taxes without giving him or her the opportunity to question or appeal the amount claimed to be owed.
- The IRS will never ask for a credit or debit card number over the phone.
- The IRS will never threaten to send local police or other law enforcement to have a taxpayer arrested.
- The IRS will never require a taxpayer to use a specific payment method for taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
Scammers will place a call to an older person and when the mark picks up, they will say something along the lines of: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done any background research. The fake grandchild will usually ask 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.
Phone Scams & Robocalling
Perhaps the most common scheme is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people. With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are incredibly hard to trace. Also, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is then shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly. Robocalling is the process of using equipment to mechanically, as opposed to manually, dial phone numbers in sequence.
“Can you hear me?” The scammer will simply ask “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” in order to prompt the recipient to say “yes.” The scammers record the consumer’s voice, and thus obtain a voice signature, and use the recording to authorize unwanted charges on items like utility bills, phone bills, or even stolen credit cards.
Charity scams. One common scam involves someone impersonating a charity foundation in an effort to collect donations. This fraudulent appeal is especially common following a natural disaster.
Sweepstakes & lottery scams. A scammer may claim to be associated with a prize or lottery commission. They may tell the victim that they won the lottery or a special prize and that they need to send money to cover the taxes on their winnings.
You can reduce the number of unwanted sales calls you get by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry. It’s free. Visit donotcall.gov to register your number.
An email phishing scam can happen when a senior receives an email appearing to be from a legitimate entity such as the IRS requesting them to update or verify their personal information. When the senior reveals their social security number, credit card information or other sensitive information, the scammer may then use it for identity theft.
Forward unwanted or deceptive messages to the Federal Trade Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include the complete spam email.
Medicare & Health Insurance Scams
Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, so there is rarely any need for a scam artist to research what private health insurance company older people have in order to scam them out of some money. In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.
Banking scams involve attempts to access your bank account. Some popular banking scams include:
Overpayment scams - A scam artist sends you a counterfeit check. They tell you to deposit it in your bank account, and wire part of the money back to them. Since the check was fake, you’ll have to pay your bank the amount of the check, plus you’ll lose any money you wired.
Unsolicited check fraud - A scammer sends you a check for no reason. If you cash it, you may be authorizing the purchase of items or signing up for a loan you didn’t ask for.
Automatic withdrawals - A company sets up an automatic debit from your bank account, as part of a free trial or to collect lottery winnings.
Phishing - You receive an email message that asks you to verify your bank account or debit card number.
The proper organization to report a banking scam to depends on which type you were a victim of.
Remain socially active. Isolation is one thing that can contribute to a senior’s financial vulnerability, as being cut off from the outside world can make it more difficult for others to detect warning signs. An isolated individual may also feel that they lack the resources and relationships they need to feel financially secure. One of the best safeguards against financial elder abuse is to create a strong support system.
Avoid joint bank accounts. Some seniors might open a joint bank account so that a family member can more easily make payments or withdrawals on their behalf and help manage their finances. But a joint bank account can also serve as an easy way for theft and abuse to occur.
Don’t give up your home. Particularly when moving into an assisted living facility, an older adult might consider signing over their home to a trusted family member in order to let that person handle the selling of the home. A home can be among a senior’s most valuable assets, however, and it may not be a safe idea to sign the home over to another person, no matter how trustworthy they might be.
Invoke a power of attorney. The risk of financial abuse heightens after a person develops a decreased capacity to make independent financial decisions. Invoking a power of attorney can be one proactive way to prepare for the future of one’s wealth and assets. Seniors can consider getting legal advice to help in this process.
Set up a revocable trust. Placing a senior’s assets in a revocable living trust and naming a fiduciary can be one way to protect against outsiders getting access to any of the senior’s assets that are of significant value.
Additional State and Federal Resources and websites that provide more information on elder financial abuse.
To request printed copies of the publications below by mail service, please email us at email@example.com.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a U.S. government agency that regulates the activity of banks, lenders and other financial institutions to ensure consumers remain free of unfair, deceptive or abusive practices. For more information from the CFPB's Office for Older Americans visit the resources for older adults page of their website.
Money Smart for Older Adults is designed in easy-to-read 14 point font, and provides information on common frauds, scams and other forms of elder financial exploitation and suggests steps that older persons and their caregivers can take to avoid being targeted or victimized. Click to download this 100 page resource guide.
Protect Your Identity. What Older Adults Should Know. This identity protection guide from the CFPB explains steps older adults can take to protect personal information both before and after a breach. Click below to view the print-ready version.
The U.S. Special Committee on Aging
The U.S. Special Committee on Aging is tasked with investigating issues relating to the elderly. Fighting Fraud is an interactive resource guide published by the Committee, is an interactive resource guide below, published by the Committee, identifying the ten top scams targeting our nation's seniors. For more information from the Committee on Aging visit their website at www.aging.senate.gov.
Department of Justice
U.S. Department of Justice The Department of Justice fights financial crimes against older Americans through outreach efforts that include scam alerts, training and more. Click to download these print-ready pamphlets from the Department of Justice's Elder Justice Initiative. For more information about the Department of Justice's efforts to prevent and combat elder abuse, visit the Elder Justice Website at www.elderjustice.gov.
Get the Facts about Financial Scams
Get the Facts about Financial Exploitation & Learn How to Protect Yourself
Get the Facts about Elder Abuse
Department of Health & Human Services. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services builds awareness of elder fraud, allows for fraud to be reported and provides support for victims and their families.
National Institute of Justice. The National Institute of Justice conducts research and provides information about the financial exploitation of the elderly with the goal of improving knowledge and understanding of the crime.
Elder Financial Protection Network. The Elder Financial Protection Network is an organization dedicated to helping seniors recognize and avoid financial abuse.
National Adult Protective Services Association. The national non-profit organization has representation in all 50 states and works to increase awareness of elder abuse through education and advocacy.
National Center on Elder Abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) serves as a national resource center dedicated to the prevention of elder mistreatment. First established by the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) in 1988 as a national elder abuse resource center, the NCEA was granted a permanent home at AoA in the 1992 amendments made to Title II of the Older Americans Act.
National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. A non-profit organization, the NCPEA is made up of researchers, practitioners, educators and advocates all dedicated to the prevention of abuse of senior adults.