What is Elder Fraud?
Elder fraud is a term to describe a fraudulent activity that targets the elderly. It includes a variety of different schemes, including romance scams, lottery scams, tech-support scams, family scams, government impersonation scams, etc. Many malicious actors and scammers target elders specifically, usually because they are more trusting, often have less knowledge about computers and other electronics, are more likely to have savings, and have good credit. According to the FBI, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some kind of fraud, with hundreds of millions of dollars in losses reported every year.
If you or your loved one become a victim of fraud, report it to local law enforcement as soon as possible. Attempts of fraud should also be reported to prevent other victims.
Types of elder fraud
- Romance scams.
Romance scams involve a scammer creating a fake identity in order to approach victims online and develop a romantic relationship with the intention to steal money. These types of scams are usually long-term because scammers need to invest time into the relationships with the victims and build trust. Once sufficient time has passed and victims feel safe in the relationship, scammers start asking for money for supposed medical emergencies, visa issues, etc. Victims, who haven’t actually met their supposed love interest in real life, end up sending thousands of dollars believing they are helping someone they love.
Elders who have lost their spouses for whatever reason often feel lonely and in need of companionship. Thus, they are the perfect target for romance scammers. Malicious actors use their vulnerability to their advantage and steal their hard-earned money.
- Tech support scams.
Elderly people are arguably the most likely to fall victim to tech support scams because they often have little knowledge about computers. Tech support scams involve scammers pretending to be legitimate tech support technicians working for companies like Microsoft and Apple, and trying to trick victims into paying for tech support to fix a computer issue that doesn’t actually exist. Scammers call victims themselves or wait for them to encounter fake malware alerts with their phone numbers while browsing the Internet. Once contact is made, tech support scammers attempt to convince the victim that their computer is infected with serious malware that is stealing personal and financial information. They use manipulation techniques to trick victims into allowing remote access to their devices, which then allows them to potentially steal files, as well as install highly questionable programs. Since there’s nothing wrong with the computer in the first place, tech support scammers only pretend to fix the device. In the end, they demand hundreds of dollars for these fake services. Victims, often elderly people, end up paying because they believe the service to be legitimate.
- Family scams.
Scammers often pose as relatives (children, grandchildren, etc.) to try and trick elders into sending/giving money. Malicious actors may make contact during the night to catch victims off guard and claim there has been a medical emergency for their child, grandchild, sibling, etc. The scammers then claim that the victim must pay money for their loved one to receive the medical care they supposedly need.
There are quite a few stories about these scams, such as people paying for their children’s medical expenses only to later realize they don’t have children.
- Government/Bank impersonator scams.
Scammers also like to pretend to be government employees in order to trick victims into sending money. They may contact victims and threaten to arrest them for a supposedly serious crime they have committed unless they agree to pay.
They also like to pretend to be bank employees and contact victims about supposed fraudulent activity in their bank account. They make up various scenarios that money is being stolen or that there are money laundering signs, and trick victims into providing their online banking credentials, as well as payment card information. Unsuspecting victims allow these scammers into their bank accounts, which leads to significant money loss.
How to protect oneself from fraud
- Familiarize yourself with the various scams to be able to recognize one when it’s happening.
It’s easiest to recognize scams when you have seen what they look like. We strongly recommend becoming familiar with the various scams you may encounter and how to recognize them.
- Do not rush into making decisions when under pressure.
One of the manipulation techniques often used by scammers is creating a sense of urgency, which makes people act more irrationally and make quick decisions without too much thinking. Before doing anything under pressure, take a second to think.
- Do not provide any personal or financial information to anyone who makes unsolicited contact.
Whether via phone or email, do not reveal your personal/financial information to an unidentified person who makes unsolicited contact. Remember, no government organization, law enforcement agency, or bank will ever call you to ask for your passwords, PIN codes, login credentials, payment card numbers, or any other information that only you should know.
- Do not send money to people you have not met in real life, even if they are a potential love interest.
Never send money to someone you met online, whoever they may be, whether it’s a friend or a romantic partner. If you have not met them in real life, you cannot be sure that you are not talking to a potential scammer. Keep in mind that romance scammers can invest months of their time to build fake relationships so knowing someone online for a longer period of time does not mean they are who they say they are.
- Have anti-virus software installed on your computer.
To protect your computer and all the information in it, install an anti-virus program and run regular scans.