Protecting Seniors from Common Scams

Illustration with lock, key, file, representing secure informations.

May is Older Americans Month, and this month marks the 10th anniversary of the FTC’s Pass It On fraud education campaign for older adults. Unfortunately, scams targeting seniors have been on the rise, with elder fraud complaints increasing by 14% in 2023 and resulting in $3.4 billion in losses. But don’t worry; by staying informed and vigilant, seniors can safeguard themselves against fraud. Here’s how you can protect yourself and stay secure.

Why Seniors Are Targets of Financial Abuse:

Several factors contribute to seniors being prime targets for scammers.

Age-related issues such as dementia, cognitive decline, and physical frailty make it more difficult for older adults to make sound decisions, which makes them easier to exploit. Predictable income patterns, such as receiving Social Security checks at the same time each month, provide scammers with clear opportunities to strike.

Relative wealth is another factor. Seniors generally have more wealth than younger people due to a lifetime of working, investing, and saving. This concentration of wealth in a vulnerable population makes them attractive targets for financial exploitation.

Additionally, seniors’ financial capabilities may decline over time, making it harder for them to manage their assets, understand financial tools, or use banking technology effectively. Confidence in their financial decisions might not decline at the same rate, leaving them unaware of their vulnerability.

Lastly, reluctance to seek help is a significant barrier. Seniors may feel embarrassed, worry about causing trouble, or fear losing their independence, making them hesitant to report scams. They may also not know how to report what has happened to them.

An NIH study found that susceptibility to scams in older adults was positively associated with age and negatively correlated with income, cognitive function, psychological well-being, and literacy. Lower cognitive function, decreased psychological well-being, and lower literacy are particularly strong indicators of susceptibility to financial victimization.

Common Scams Targeting Seniors:

Scammers exploit a variety of schemes to defraud seniors. Below are just some of the common ones based on the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Department of Justice’s Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force.

Tech Support Scams: This was the most reported type of fraud affecting seniors in 2023. Scammers pose as tech support representatives from major companies, tricking victims into sharing personal information or granting remote access to their computers.
Social Security Administration Impostor Scam: Fraudsters impersonate government agents, claiming issues with Social Security benefits and requesting personal information or payment to “resolve” the issue.
Investment Scams: These scams led to the highest financial losses among older adults in 2023. Scammers entice victims with false promises of high returns, leading to significant monetary losses.
Romance Scams: Scammers prey on seniors’ emotional vulnerability, cultivating online relationships to extract money or personal information.
Lottery and IRS Scams: Fraudsters claim victims have won a lottery or owe back taxes, pushing them to pay fees or fines to avoid legal trouble.

How to Stay Informed and Safe:

The FTC’s Pass It On campaign page offers resources to stay updated on current scams and provides tips on how to protect yourself. Additionally, you can check their Consumer Alerts page to stay on top of the latest information or sign up to get the alerts sent straight to your email.

Many banks offer resources and information about the latest popular scams on their website’s education or security pages. For those who prefer in-person banking, developing a relationship with bank employees can help alert you to any suspicious activity.

Remember, no legitimate agency or organization will ask for personal information through unsolicited contact. Your best defense against scammers is to hang up the phone, shred correspondence, delete emails, or shut the door.

If you think you’ve fallen victim to a scam, the FTC website offers guidance on what to do next.

Seniors can face challenges from scammers, but by staying informed and vigilant, they can confidently protect themselves. Resources like the FTC’s website and Consumer Alerts can keep you up-to-date on the latest scams, and seeking advice from trusted financial institutions or community members can offer additional security. Remember, being proactive and cautious can make a significant difference. Stay alert, stay informed, and continue to enjoy your financial independence with confidence.