According to the FBI’s 2021 Elder Fraud Report, more than $1.7 Billion was lost to fraud and scams by people over 60 in 2021. This group had the highest number of incidents and the greatest losses, according to the report.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should target your grandparents to learn phishing tricks at your next family gathering. Although older adults may have more risk factors than others, scammers can still target anyone. However, everyone is better at avoiding scams if they are well informed.
Families and caregivers may have their own stories about scams. Taylor Patskanick, AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recommends that there be a “multigenerational conversation” about the topic.
Talking about fraud and financial exploitation can help seniors avoid falling for scams. However, younger people could benefit from a reminder.
This is what you need to know to make the conversation more productive for everyone.
Addressing risk factors for fraud
Research is showing that scams are more common in older adults. Here are some examples:
Insufficient knowledge to avoid scams.
A panel of seniors aged 85 and over discussed fraud and financial exploitation at MIT AgeLab.
“We heard a lot from them about really lacking information — very precise information about a scam that was circulating,” Patskanick says.
According to Patskanick, older adults “articulated a common understanding that they have gaps in technology knowledge which can make it easy for them, sometimes, to be prey for digitally-enabled financial exploitation, fraud, and exploitation.”
Preventing scams in the elderly can help them avoid being scammed again, according to a 2014 study in Basic and Applied Social Psychology.
Not only older adults can benefit from
According to a 2021 study by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (or FINRA), a non-governmental organization that regulates U.S. securities market, even a three-minute viewing of a video on investing fraud techniques decreased susceptibility to financial crime in all ages. The effect lasted longer if the information was repeated.
Talking about fraud and scams during a family gathering can help everyone avoid them in the long-term.
Common types frauds and scams
There are very few scams that target only older adults. However, there are others like the grandparent scam (explained further below).
These are the most prevalent types of fraud and scams targeting older adults. They were reported to the Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline, and/or FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Tech Support scam
It’s a scam: Scammers claim they are working for companies such as Microsoft, Apple, or Google. They may claim that your phone or computer has been infected with viruses, or ask for remote access.
How to deal with it: Don’t lose computer access or your personal information. Talk to a tech-savvy friend who can help you determine if it is a problem and how to fix it.
Government impersonation scam
It’s a scam: Scammers pretend to work for the IRS, Social Security, Medicare, or Medicare. They may claim that you owe money, need a new ID card or owe them money. Then they ask for your personal information and a payment.
How to deal with it: Do not send money or provide personal information. You can confirm if there is an issue by obtaining the contact information of the agency via a “.gov”. website such as IRS.gov or USA.gov.
It’s a scam: Scammers pretend to be grandchild or another relative. They may claim that they are in serious financial trouble and urgently need funds to fly, pay a medical bill, or bail.
How to deal with it: Don’t immediately send money or share personal information. You can check on the whereabouts of your family member with another relative, or contact them using an online or phone number that is theirs.
It’s a scam. They claim to be offering a sweepstakes, or lottery. You might be told you have won a large prize but that you must pay taxes or fees in order to collect it. Then they will ask you for financial information.
How to deal with it: Don’t give away your personal information or money. Real sweepstakes won’t require you to pay anything to enter or to win a prize.
Resources to help guide conversations
These are additional anti-fraud resources that older adults can use to get information about current scams and how to stop them.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has an anti-fraud campaign for older adults called “ Pass It On “. The campaign provides simple instructions in English or Spanish on how to avoid common frauds.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative provides resources and guidance on how to report abuse and financial exploitation of seniors.
The author of this article received a journalism fellowship from Gerontological Society of America and the Journalists Network on Generations.