Tips To Prevent Elder Fraud
Each year, millions of adults, aged 65 and older fall victim to some type of financial scam or confidence scheme. While the FBI estimates that seniors lose more than $3 billion each year to fraudsters, it’s not always a stranger who targets their victim. Although it may be difficult to discuss, let’s talk about ways you or a loved one can help prevent elder fraud.
So why are seniors such common targets? Older adults have often had more time to accumulate wealth. Some scams target seniors because seniors are generally more trusting. Other scams target older adults because of perceived frailty.
“If it can happen to me, it can happen to you,” warned former FBI and CIA Director William Webster in an article posted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that urges aging adults and their loved ones to be wary of elder fraud schemes.
In 2014, Webster, a retired judge, found himself the target of a common lottery scam. An unexpected caller told him he had won a car and a large sum of money in a sweepstakes. To collect his prize, he was asked to pay $50,000.
After being turned down multiple times, the individual making the call resorted to being aggressive and making threats. The Websters contacted the FBI and collaborated with specialized agents from the Washington Field Office to catch the fraudster, who is currently serving a prison sentence.
Millions of elderly people are targeted annually by fraudsters with false lotteries/romance scams. These swindlers tempt victims with illusions of love in return for money. This issue is growing as the US population ages.
Regrettably, seniors tend to feel ashamed and hesitant to report the crime when they fall victim to fraud. To safeguard yourself or someone you care about from scams, it is advisable to become acquainted with some of the most prevalent tactics that scammers employ to obtain money and personal information.
Seniors should protect their Medicare numbers like they would their credit cards, bank accounts, and Social Security numbers. Refrain from letting anyone else use it.
Be cautious of individuals trying to sell something they say Medicare will cover. Check Medicare statements to make sure services were received. Always report any suspicious activity to 1-800-MEDICARE.
Visit Do Not Call to block telemarketers. Don’t leave mail in your mailbox for long. If you’re sending sensitive mail, drop it off at a secure collection box or post office. Furthermore, monitor your credit ratings online regularly and check AnnualCreditReport for inaccuracies.
By opting for direct deposit, you can ensure the safety of your benefit checks as they will be deposited directly into your account, protecting them from potential theft by cunning scammers or even family members who may steal checks from mailboxes or seniors’ homes.
Online accounts can be secured with multi factor authentication. You may need to enter a code sent to your phone or email, or generated with an app, to access it. This extra security can keep scammers away even if they have your login details.
Avoid purchases from unknown vendors and always request and wait for written details regarding offers or charities. Exemptions can be made for children you know who are selling items for school fundraising or Girl Scout cookies, though it is wise to never donate if asked to submit credit card info on forms.
Before deciding to buy a product or service, it is advisable to acquire the salesperson’s name, business identity, telephone number, street address, mailing address, and business license number for future reference.
Nearly all reported elder abuse is caused by close family members. Typically adult children, grandchildren, nieces/nephews, etc. Tactics used to target older people oftentimes include draining a joint checking account, not providing care despite given money/property, stealing, and other forms of abuse, including neglect. Financial abuse is a risk to all, regardless of income/assets.
Before making any purchases, it is important to take the time to shop around and compare prices. Make sure to call different stores and ask questions to ensure you are getting the best deal. If you can, it is beneficial to bring a trustworthy friend or family member along who can provide a different perspective on the purchase. Before signing any contracts or purchasing agreements, it is important to read them thoroughly and ensure that everything has been documented.
While online avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails, texts, or social media messages. Thieves can sometimes pretend to be the United States government. Prior to investing or conducting online transactions, it is important to verify the legitimacy of the organization by requesting information about the company and confirming their registration with either the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.
Here are some additional warning signs of financial abuse:
- Essential bills are unpaid despite adequate income.
- There are unusual recent changes in the person’s accounts, including withdrawals, new person(s) added, or sudden use of a senior’s ATM or credit card.
- Your loved one’s mail largely consists of sweepstakes mailings, magazine subscriptions, or “free gifts,” which means they may be on lists that target seniors.
- Call your bank and/or credit card company.
- Cancel any debit or credit cards linked to the stolen account.
- Reset your personal identification number(s).
Contact The Police
Scams can happen to anyone from any background and at any age, no matter how smart or well-informed they may be. Scammers have become increasingly sophisticated in their tactics, often using personalized approaches to deceive their victims. If you think you or someone you know has been scammed, it is important not to be embarrassed or afraid to talk about it – it is vital to take action as soon as possible.
This can include alerting the relevant authorities, such as the police, or reporting the scam to a charity or organization that deals with such cases. It is also important to contact your bank or financial institution to discuss any potential losses and to take steps to protect yourself from further scams.
The prevalence of elder fraud is a stark reality that cannot be ignored. The growing population of older adults, coupled with their accumulated wealth and trusting nature, makes them prime targets for scammers. The story of former FBI and CIA Director William Webster serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us that no one is immune to these fraudulent schemes.
It is crucial for seniors and their loved ones to be vigilant and educated about common scams. By taking proactive measures we can mitigate the risks of elder fraud. If you suspect that you or someone you know has fallen victim to a scam, do not hesitate to report the incident and seek assistance.
Remember, the fight against elder fraud requires collective action and continuous awareness to ensure the safety and well-being of our elderly population.
Fraud Resources For Seniors
Department of Financial Protection & Innovation: Contact if you have questions or suspect a scam at 866-275-2677.
CA Office of Attorney General: Bureau of Medical, Fraud and Elder Abuse, complaint hotline 800-722-0432
Adult Protective Services: Report physical, emotional and financial abuse 24 hours a day 7 days a week at: 833-401-0832
AARP Suspected SCAM Hotline: 877-908-3360 Toll Free Monday- Friday 8am-8pm
California Department of Aging: Oversees programs that provide services to older adults in California: 800-510-2020
California Senior Gateway: Provides seniors with information & resources
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