The problem of seniors getting caught up in financial scams has gone on for many years. However, recently, the scams have become more sophisticated and more widespread, causing losses in millions of dollars to the older community. These seniors are often more vulnerable to deception. Measures to help elders recognize and manage their vulnerability to scams are becoming part of senior support programs across the country.
Why Seniors Have Increased Vulnerability to Scams
The stereotype of the scam artist’s “mark” is that of an older individual who has some wealth but may have some degree of cognitive impairment, poor health, limited mobility, and few social contacts. To some extent, this stereotype is true. However, even older individuals with no indicators of cognitive decline can be vulnerable to the persuasive methods used by scam artists. Seniors were often raised with an emphasis on good manners, so they are reluctant to hang up the phone on an insistent caller and may be more willing to listen to the scammer’s “pitch.” Individuals who are not knowledgeable about the financial world or how the healthcare industry works are more likely to be targets of elaborate scams. They may feel unhappy about their life situation, which may make them more open to suggestions about improving their lives. Scammers may play on their love for family members.
How Scammers Play Upon Seniors’ Vulnerabilities
The scammers know elders’ unique vulnerability to scams and go out of their way to be pleasant and interested in their target—at first. Eventually, however, they take on a more bullying tone. Some scammers even threaten family members. In fact, the scam may involve helping a loved one that is in trouble in some way. The result is the older person becomes willing to do anything the scammer says to eliminate the threat. Other scams are conducted in a more graduated way. The initial request may be for a small amount of money, which is followed by more and more requests, often totaling a very large sum. The scammer may encourage the senior to use a credit card to get cash, or the scam may involve purchasing gift cards from stores. Others involve wire transfers of large amounts of money. Some scams involve getting into the individual’s computer to empty bank accounts. The type and number of scams are endless, and scammers seem to think up new variations continuously.
Ways Seniors Can Protect Themselves Against Scams
Elders can protect themselves by being firm in their refusal to listen to strangers on the phone or others you don’t know, and by educating themselves on some of the common schemes that are circulating. Seniors should also make a policy of not deciding on acting on unusual financial requests in the moment, in order to give themselves time to consider the information they have and how they feel about it. They should also be willing to discuss the issue with family members or other trusted individuals that can help them judge the legitimacy of the request. If you have doubts about the validity of an organization, do some research on the internet or have someone help you look into the company’s background.
Helping Others to Protect Themselves
Family, friends, and caregivers of older individuals can help by maintaining close contact with the senior. Discuss some of the scams you’ve heard about in the news and help the elder understand the tactics. Be aware of changes in financial condition, such as large withdrawals from bank accounts, insufficient funds notices, or unpaid bills. Check the elder’s credit rating on an annual basis. Monitor their circle of friends, especially new acquaintances or romantic attachments. If the elder becomes a victim of a scam, be sensitive and helpful in reporting or investigating the problem.
Individuals over the age of 65 must be aware that they are in an age group that has a particular vulnerability to scams. These unscrupulous individuals will use a variety of tricks, such as psychological manipulation and technology, to confuse and intimidate older individuals. Eldercare organizations can help seniors to resist these scams with educational talks and encouraging seniors to discuss matters with trusted individuals before agreeing to a suspicious request.