Fraud Education – Elder Exploitation Scams

Older adults are often targeted for financial exploitation due to their income and accumulated lifelong savings, in addition to the possibility they may face declining cognitive or physical abilities, isolation from family and friends, lack of familiarity or comfort with technology, and reliance on others for their physical well-being, financial management, and social interaction.

In April 2023, U.S. citizens aged 60 and above reported over $3.4 billion in fraud schemes, marking an almost 11% rise from the previous year. On average, each of the 100,000 victims lost $33,915, with close to 6,000 victims losing over $100,000 each.

Common types of elder exploitation scams include:

  • Romance scam – These scammers will assume a fake identity and reach out online through a dating app or social media. They build rapport with you, sharing fictional details about their situation and asking questions about your life. They pretend to share common interests to further build trust. At some point, they will ask for money for some type of crisis like a health emergency. They promise to pay the money back but never do, then keep asking for more.
    • Remember: investigate the person on social media or background check apps and confirm with their family and friends to see if they are who they claim to be.
  • Tech support scam – These scammers pull people in through deceptive phone calls, emails, text messages, or online pop-up windows, and convince you they are from a reputable tech company. They tell you there’s a security flaw or some sort of problem with your computer and offer to help fix it. Then, they ask you to send them personal information and payments or request remote access to your computer.
    • Remember: call the tech company directly to check and see if the person actually works there.
  • Grandparent scam – These scammers take a more personal approach and pose as your grandchildren or other family members. They call and ask for financial assistance to get out of dire situations like legal trouble. They might even come to your door “on behalf of your grandchild” to pick up the money and keep asking for more through mail or wire transfer. They research their targets and use family names and personal information to earn your trust. They may tell you to keep this to yourself and not tell anyone else in your family.
    • Remember: ask your family to double-check that your grandchild is in financial trouble.
  • Government impersonation scam – These scammers pretend to represent government agencies such as Medicare, the IRS, or the Social Security Administration. They reach out via phone calls, emails, or text messages and claim you owe the government money or need to provide personal information. They may know parts of your social security number and use threats of fines or jail time to compel you to take immediate action.
    • Remember: the government will never surprise you with an unexpected phone call.
  • Fake prize scam – These scammers contact you and claim you’ve won a prize in a contest, sweepstakes, or lottery. They ask you to provide personal information or send money to cover the cost of “shipping” to receive the prize. They may send you a message through text, email, or social media to get your personal information. They might say they are from the government or an organization you recognize. They may send you a fake check and request you send the funds back to them.
    • Remember: sweepstakes are free to enter, and you never have to pay to receive a prize.
  • Home repair scam – These scammers come to your home or call to offer repair services, such as new window installation, fixing a leaky roof, or a bathroom renovation. They might find you after a major storm that caused home damage. They ask for upfront payment or try to lure you into signing a financing agreement that’s part of the scam. Once they’ve secured payment, they leave without actually doing any work or do poor-quality work that makes things worse.
    • Remember: ask for home repair recommendations from people you know and trust.
  • Investment scam – These scammers offer to help you make money through real estate investment seminars, coaching programs, or cryptocurrency. They pitch that you can make a fortune by using their “proven and risk-free” strategies. They use fake testimonials, social media posts, and reviews to earn your trust. Their phony offers will require you to make some kind of investment.
    • Remember: investigate and find out if these “investment coaches” are really who they claim to be, research the investment programs, and report fraudsters immediately.
  • Caregiver financial scam – These scammers are trusted family members or caregivers who find ways to financially exploit older adults. They might take cash directly from your wallet or ask you for money to cover fictional expenses.
    • Remember: check with other family members to make sure you can trust whoever is asking for the money.

To safeguard aging loved ones, follow these steps:

  • Initiate open conversations about scams and advise them to reach out if anything seems suspicious.
  • Maintain regular communication through calls, visits, or emails.
  • Foster a relationship with caregivers to deter potential exploitation.
  • Act as a “trusted contact” to oversee financial activities.
  • Refrain from signing unfamiliar documents.
  • Encourage written documentation before financial transactions, and review with a trusted advisor.
  • Ensure computer software and security systems are regularly updated.
  • Consider investing in comprehensive identity protection, including credit and dark web monitoring, fraud detection, and resolution services.
    • Learn about First Mid’s IDProtect program here.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accepts complaints about most scams, including these common elder exploitation scams. Report the scam to the FTC online, or by phone at 1-877-382-4357.

You can also report elder fraud to the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).