Millions of older adults fall prey to financial scams each year. Financial abuse currently effects about 20% of Americans age 65 or older and costs them approximately $3 billion per year. In fact, it has become so widespread that The Wall Street Journal has called it an “epidemic” (“Fraudsters Try More Tricks on Elderly”, December 24, 2013). Some of the more common scams include:
1. The grandparent scam. A con artist telephones a loved one pretending to be a grandchild in the midst of a crisis, such as being jailed or kidnapped. The “grandchild” of course, needs money to be immediately wired and makes grandma promise not to tell anyone.
2. The telemarketer scam. Scammers posing as telemarketers ask for donations to civic causes like a fake wounded veteran charity.
3. The government agency scam. Imposters claiming to be employees of a government agency such as the Social Security Administration or the IRS, claim to require immediate payment to receive additional money or avoid fines.
4. The sweepstakes scam. Scammers claiming to represent a well known company, inform their targets they have won a sweepstakes and must pay a small “fee” to receive their winnings.
Because the elderly tend to be more trusting, they are much more vulnerable to such scams. Women over age 80 who live alone are especially at risk. Simply warning your loved one about such scams however, may not be enough. Due to the prevalence of such scam artists and their effectiveness, you may also want to consider the following:
1. Keep alert for warning signs. Watch out for unusual mail, telephone calls or odd behavior.
2. Set up on-line access to your loved one’s accounts. Look for unusual charges each month.
3. Unlist your loved one’s phone number. This will make it more difficult for scammers to get it.
4. Opt-out of mailing lists with credit vendors. If such mail subsequently arrives, you will then expect that it is likely from a scammer.
5. Periodically check your loved one’s credit report. This will help protect against fraudulent accounts being opened in their name.