Fraud on Senior Citizens

Why are the elderly such an attractive target for con artists?

  • Many seniors have a “nest egg.” 
  • They’re less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know where to go or they’re too embarrassed to talk about it. 
  • If they do report the crime, it’s sometimes hard for them to remember exact details. 
  • Many of the products/services being hawked by con artists appeal to individuals of a certain age—i.e., anti-aging and other health care products, health care services, and investments related to retirement savings.

The threat to seniors is growing…and changing. Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are now the largest segment of our population—about 78 million people. That means that the number of senior citizens is rising. Many younger boomers also have considerable computer skills, so criminals are modifying their targeting techniques—using not only traditional telephone calls and mass mailings but also online scams like phishing and e-mail spamming.

Another troubling trend is that the Criminals targeting the elderly are increasingly located outside the U.S., making it difficult for American law enforcement to track them down.

The scams

Some common scams to look out for:

  • Identity theft (accomplished through “dumpster diving,” phishing, address changes, old-fashioned theft); 
  • Health insurance frauds (medical equipment, “rolling lab” schemes, Medicare fraud, counterfeit prescription drugs); 
  • Home repair schemes; 
  • Foreign lottery/sweepstakes fraud; 
  • Advance fee/credit card frauds;
  • Investment fraud; and
  • Charity schemes.

Recovery schemes are also worth mentioning because they’re especially cold-hearted: they target previous victims by convincing them that their money has been recovered by law enforcement or government officials but that they must pay a fee to get it back.

A few basic tips to avoid being victimized:

  • Shred credit card receipts and old bank statements;
  • Close unused credit card or bank accounts;
  • Don’t give out personal information via the phone, mail, or Internet unless you initiated the contact; 
  • Never respond to an offer you don’t understand; 
  • Talk over investments with a trusted friend, family member, or financial advisor; 
  • Require all plans and purchases to be in writing; and
  • Don’t pay in advance for services.

Remember, if it sounds too good, it probably is.

Who to call if you suspect a fraud?

If you’re a senior citizen who has been victimized by fraud, start by calling your local or state law enforcement agency.  

For more information on these and other scams and ways to protect yourself, check out the FBI website on Senior Citizen Fraud or the Stop website.