Crimes, Scams and Fraud cost Seniors More Than $36 Billion Per Year!
Did you know that crimes, scams and fraud cost seniors more than $36 billion per year! (1) This is a staggering amount of money that is only projected to go up as more and more baby boomers enter their retirement years. Seniors and their families need to recognize these scams and schemes that rob their loved one(s) out of precious money needed for retirement care, sometimes even to the point of bankruptcy.
Typically, holiday and tax seasons see the biggest increase in scam and fraud activities. However, scams and fraud, particularly against seniors, can occur at any time. Some of these elder-abuse schemes and scams are readily discernible while others are very clever, almost undetectable. Some involve people or computers working from a distance while other schemes and scams are carried out by our own family members and caregivers.
Let’s take a look at how to identify the type of schemes and scams aimed at swindling your loved one(s) out of their money and dignity. Hopefully, we can provide you some tips and actions you can take to avoid becoming an unwilling victim in these crimes, scams and fraud activities.
According to a TrueLink Report on Elder Financial Report in 2015 (2) it is surprising who makes the best targets for fraudulent schemes and crimes. One would think that the oldest seniors and those with memory loss would be the most vulnerable to fall for these activities. However, it turns out younger, more urban and college-educated seniors are most likely to unwittingly participate in these scams and schemes.
The report also defines those seniors who are very friendly and trusting are four times as likely to be a victim of elder abuse. Financially savvy seniors are also more likely to participate in elder abuse as they are more comfortable moving larger amounts of money around. Thrifty seniors are five times more likely to lose money as they are usually engaged in getting the best bargains for their money.
True Link estimates over $36.5 billion dollars are lost to exploitation, fraud and abuse activities each year for elders broken down as follows:
- Financial exploitation: $16.99 billion annual loss due misleading or confusing language combines with social pressure tactics that prey on cognitive decline and memory loss to obtain consent to take a person’s money.
- Criminal fraud: $12.76 billion annual loss to explicitly illegal
activity resulting in a person sending money or sharing personal information, such as the grandparent scam, the Nigerian prince scam, or identity theft.
- Caregiver abuse: $6.67 billion annual lose to deceit or theft
propagated by a trusting relationship—typically a family member
but sometimes a paid caregiver, friend, lawyer, accountant, or
The Effects of Elder Abuse Crimes
The effects of one or more crimes, scams and fraud against seniors can have catastrophic effects for them and their family. As we noted above these activities can rob seniors of critical monies needed to maintain their lifestyle or fund their medical needs right down to bankrupting their estate. As a family member there are some warning signs your loved one may have been abused by one or more of these scammers or abusers.
- Reduction in health care services – unable to afford current level of caregiving services, e.g. reducing caregiving hours; skimping or eliminating care supplies or forcing family care over paid care.
- Reduction in health care costs – not refilling medications and nutritional supplements; not keeping or making new medical, dental, vision or hearing appointments; or not obtaining urgent medical supplies such as canes, walkers, dental implants, glasses or other needed health equipment (due to inability to make co-payments).
- Reduction in meal consumption – unable to purchase adequate levels of food for proper meals; reduction or elimination of meal delivery services, such as Meals on Wheels, or skipping meals entirely. It is estimated one million seniors skip meals due to lack of money from scams and fraud activities! (2)
- Reduction in assets or property – unusual withdrawals or depletion of monies in retirement, savings, bank or investment accounts; sale of valuable assets (jewelry, collections, coins, etc.) without explanation; refinancing property without explanation to family.
- Increase in depression, stress and anxiety – look for changes in mood or feelings of disinterest or depression; look for changes in levels of activity and lack of socialization; look for flares of anger, frustration or more than usual stress which all could be signs of underlying problems with finances.
If you are a victim or suspect a loved one might be a victim of financial crime, scams or fraud you need to report the activity and get help healing and recovering from this activity. Often people, particularly seniors, do not report these crimes or choose to get help. This can be as high as one in 24 with some reporting as high as one in 44 people! (3)
The lack of reporting may be due to embarrassment or humiliation or simply trying to protect a family member. It is not legal, morally or ethically right to financially take advantage of someone else, particularly if they do not have the mental capacity to protect themselves. If you or your loved one has been or is being victimized, please step in and get them the help they need to stop the abuse!
Where to Get Help
While there is no one central place to report these types of crimes, there are several places to report a problem and get help if you are victim of a crime, scam or fraud. If you are a victim of a crime you should contact your local police authority and report it. You may be able to recoup some or all of your losses, but apprehending the perpetrator will also prevent them from victimizing someone else too!
Agencies That Can Help
The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging has a fraud hotline setup specifically to address the needs of seniors. You can call them toll free at 1-855-303-9470 or use the web form on their website. They are staffed weekdays 9am to 5pm EST. The Committee has investigators that specialize in fraud regarding retirement savings, identity theft, phone scams, Medicare, Social Security, and a variety of other consumer issues important to seniors and the elderly. They have also compiled a Fraud Book that you can download that features the top 10 scams reported to their hotline.
AARP has an extensive section on their website for reporting, detecting and preventing elder fraud abuse. You can also call their fraud line at 877-908-3360 to speak to volunteers trained in fraud cases. Scroll down their fraud and scams page to find a wealth of existing scams and fraud activities broken down by type to see if any match your circumstance(s) or learn more about how they work.
The National Center on Elder Abuse, established by the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA), is another place to get great information on scams and fraud activities against seniors. While you cannot report activities here you can get can some helpful information on how to prevent these crimes. You can even narrow down assistance to your state using their state locator service.
You can also register your home and cell phones on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Do Not Call Registry to reduce telemarketing calls. Fewer telemarketing calls means a reduced chance of falling for a phone scam. Visit the www.DoNotCall.gov website or call 888-382-1222 to register your phone number.
Families Can Help
If one or more of your parents suffer from mental impairment or you only have a single parent who lives alone, there are some issues you should consider or discuss with your children to help limit crimes, fraud and scams of elder abuse. These include:
- Designating a power of attorney and health care directives – These are often seen as private matters and usually pushed to the back burner for discussion when serious health issues arise. However, being clear on who will handle your affairs and make your health care decisions should be made when thinking is clear and free from impending serious health concerns. You can find additional assistance on these items from your local health care organization, senior center organization, elder care organization, or from online resources like AARP.
- Frequent communication with loved ones – keep tabs on your loved one(s) through regular phone calls and physical visits. More technical savvy seniors may be using smartphones, tablets and laptops with texting, emailing and video conferencing capabilities. This would allow for more communication options. (We got my mother-in-law a smartphone a year ago and we text back and forth regularly just to check in.)
- Get to know your loved one’s caregiver(s) – carefully choosing the agency and caregiver(s) to provide services to your loved one(s) is the first place to start in reducing your risk of hiring someone that may commit elder abuse. Develop a personal relationship with each caregiver and regularly engage them. They may be less likely to exploit your loved one(s) if they know you are being attentive.
- Use direct deposit for money transfers – signup for direct deposit for Social Security payments, retirement account transfers and other cash handling transactions. Reduce the amount of check cashing and handling by family and caregivers to reduce theft opportunities.
- Use Visa backed bank cards for transactions – whenever possible use bank cards for transactions to reduce cash handling needs. Be sure to guard your personal PIN numbers to eliminate theft opportunities should someone get a hold of your bank card.
- Add a “trusted” family member to your financial accounts – a “trusted” family member can act on the loved one’s behalf should they become medically or mentally impaired. They can also monitor accounts for any signs of fraud. (See AARP’s Managing a Loved One’s Money article.)
- Sign up for financial protection services – financial activity tracking services can monitor bank and other financial accounts for unusual withdrawal amounts and frequencies. Common ones include EverSafe, Lifelock, ID Watchdog and IdentityForce.
- Legal documents – make sure you understand the language and provisions of any legal documents you or your loved one(s) sign. Have another “trusted” family member review the document(s) with you as an extra eye for your legal needs. Never feel pressured to sign documents on the spot or make snap decisions! Always take time to review each document thoroughly. Ask for copies of documents when they originals cannot be removed from the office.
Why Are Crimes, Fraud and Scams Against Seniors Increasing?
First, there are a record number of Baby Boomers already living in retirement with thousands more retiring each year. That gives scammers and criminals a large base of victims to target. And, they are particularly partial to elderly widows.
Second, seniors are less likely to know and register their home phone or mobile phones with the FTC’s Do Not Call service thereby allowing more telemarketers to reach them. Telemarketers have gotten smarter, using “Neighborhood spoofing”, where the number they are calling from appears to be a local number on the recipient’s called ID further enticing recipients to pick up the phone. Scammers are on top of the latest technological changes and fully take advantage of those who are not as savvy.
Third, scammers are increasingly turning to the mobile phone market to effect their schemes. The number of landlines has significantly decreased with more seniors opting for a mobile phone solution. Reported scams to mobile phones was at 3.7 percent in 2017 and estimated to be 29.2 percent for 2018. That number is expected to top over 45 percent in 2019.
Fourth, seniors often have the most to lose making them an ideal target. Seniors may have a house(s) or other expensive assets already paid off, which gives them access to equity cash through second or reverse mortgages. They may also have one or more retirement, bank or financial accounts that contain their life savings, too. This perceived amount of wealth makes them appealing to scammers and criminals.
Fifth, seniors have extended families where one or more may take advantage of them. This could be through caregiver manipulation where they influence will and estate decisions or convince the senior to add them as a “trusted” partner to their financial accounts. They could also play on the senior’s compassion and love for their family by unwittingly supporting chemical dependency habits or false rehabilitation efforts.
How Can Seniors Help Prevent Crimes and Fraud Activities?
While you may not be able to prevent every criminal or scammer from trying to extol money or identity from you, there are some basic things you can do to help protect yourself.
NEVER give your social security number, Medicare number or any account numbers over the phone unless you are the one initiating the phone call. The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and Medicare will NOT call you to solicit anything unless you have called them to initiate a return phone call.
NEVER pay or agree to pay to settle any debt over the phone without demanding to see, in writing, the bill and the appeal process for disputing the claim unless you are the one initiating the call for a legitimate debt. The IRS will never demand payment over the phone nor will they specify the exact payment instrument to pay the supposed debt. They will also not threaten you with local law enforcement action.
NEVER give in to “pushy” telemarketers no matter what they are trying to sell. Take down their phone number and vital information and tell them you will call them after you consider their offer. Most will hang up and not bother you again once they see you are on to them. Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, then it probably is!
NEVER order products over the phone, off the television or even over the Internet without knowing it’s FULL price. Shipping and handling costs and potentially other hidden costs can really add up on something that looks like a deal. Many people find the deal is not such a great one once all the “hidden” costs are revealed.
NEVER send money to anyone you don’t know, especially if they promise lots of future monies or they make things sound dire if they don’t receive it. These could be scammers who claim you won prize or want you to invest in this guaranteed money making venture. If you have to put up your own money first, it is a scam.
NEVER act on impulse. If something feels like a good thing but your gut is expressing some hesitation, get a second opinion. Ask another relative or trusted friend to review an offer before signing or committing to any purchase. Don’t allow countdown timers and limited time offer deals to cloud your better judgement, especially if you feel like it might be a scam. Only buy in those circumstances once you’ve done your homework on a specific product and know its real value to see if you really are getting a good deal.
Top Scams and Where Can I Find More Scam Information?
Criminals and scammers can most likely exploit just about anything from anyone when there is money involved. However, certain classes of people are more likely to experience certain scams than others. Here is an example of the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging’s 10 top scams against seniors:
After scanning many agencies and organizations that report on criminal and scamming activity against seniors, we found these top scams:
- Medicare scams – asking for personal account and identifier information for either a replacement card, a supplemental insurance policy or disputes over billing.
- IRS scams – asking for social security number to dispute back taxes, immediate payment of outstanding debt and threats of local law enforcement action.
- Grandparent scams – getting you to divulge a grandchild name and using that knowledge to extort money to get them out trouble by immediately wiring money to scammer.
- Investment scams – these include pyramid schemes, promises of large payoffs with minimal investments upfront (Nigerian Prince scheme), and financial investors not buying and selling according to your wishes.
- Funeral and Cemetery scams – scammers read obituaries, even attend the funeral and then present fraudulent bills for outstanding services. Funeral home directors also can take advantage of a time of grief by selling more expensive items and services (e.g. caskets, flowers, headstones, etc.).
- Counterfeit drug scam – purchasing generic or knock-off drugs from phone or Internet distributors that do not provide the correct drug composition or potency as the original. They may also contain added fillers or other substances that may be harmful. (Note: drugs purchased outside the USA may not regulated or scrutinized using the same criteria as the FDA and therefore may be ineffective or harmful.)
- Identity theft scams – criminals steal a piece of personal identification (bank card, credit card, statements from your trash, etc.). They then open up bank accounts and credit cards in your name and max out those accounts and cards leaving you with the debt, collection efforts and credit score problems.
You can read more about types of criminal and scam activities as well as in depth information about the ones listed above in the following resources.
- United States Senate Special Committee on Aging – Fighting Fraud: Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting Our Nation’s Seniors
- AJC – 10 financial scams targeting seniors and how to avoid them
- AARP – Fraud Resource Center (categories of scams)
- National Council on Aging – Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors
- Senior Living – Commons Scams That Target The Elderly
- ElderCareLink – The top five scams aimed at seniors
- FBI Scams and Safety – Telemarketing Fraud
Criminal, fraud and scam activities are part of our society and seniors are a growing target. Learn about the different kinds of activities and how you can avoid becoming an unwilling participant. There are several resources, above and below, where you can learn about the various categories of scams and how to avoid them.
Report any criminal, fraud or scam activity that you feel has happened to you to either your local law enforcement agency or government agencies that support crimes against seniors. Many seniors may not report the crime if they feel embarrassed that they were taken advantage of by fraudsters. We must move past embarrassment and stop this criminal activity by reporting and prosecuting these felons!
Since there is no one reporting agency that collects and reports on all criminal fraud and scam activities we can only best guess on the financial and emotional impacts of crimes against seniors. As we have discovered in our research the conservative estimate of these losses at $3 billion per year is really closer to $36 billion per year once all types of elder abuse is factored. That is a staggering number of financial loss!
With losses of this magnitude it is imperative for seniors and their families to learn the warning signs and avoid engaging in criminal, fraudulent and scam activity. Since family members can also be part of the criminal and fraudulent element, it is important for seniors to choose one or two “trusted” family members to aid them in securing their finances and well-being moving forward.
Always remember – if something seems too good to be true, it probably is! Trust your gut instinct and have a “trusted” family member double-check your decisions before committing to a financial venture.
To Your Improved Health…
Additional Elder Abuse Resources:
- Financial Elder Abuse Costs $3 Billion a Year. Or Is It $36 Billion? – https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/consumer-protection/financial-elder-abuse-costs–3-billion—–or-is-it–30-billion-
- AJC – 10 financial scams targeting seniors and how to avoid them
- Consumer Protection Services Bureau – Working With Older Adults
- United States Senate Committee on Aging – Fraud Hotline
- (1) TrueLink Financial – Elder Financial Abuse & Other TrueLink Research
- (2) TrueLink Report on Financial Elder Abuse in 2015
- (3) Financial Elder Abuse Costs $3 Billion a Year. Or Is It $36 Billion? – https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/consumer-protection/financial-elder-abuse-costs–3-billion—–or-is-it–30-billion-