A recently released FBI report (PDF) reveals some startling statistics on elder fraud in the U.S. Financial crimes targeting those age 60 and over reached at least $3.4 billion in reported losses in 2023, up 11% from $3.1 billion in 2022. The number of reported victims was also up 14% in 2023 with 101,068 complaints filed with the FBI by people over the age of 60 as compared to 88,262 in 2022. Among elder fraud victims, the average loss was $33,915, but nearly 6,000 older adults (5,920) lost over $100,000, FBI data reveals. What can be done to confront this growing elder fraud problem?

Most common types of elder fraud scams

The FBI report highlights some of the most common scams used to trick or coerce older adults, resulting in financial loss.

Technology support scams: This tricky tactic is the most common scam to hit older victims, according to the FBI. The fraudster will contact the victim under the guise of tech support from a legitimate company and will explain that the target has been the victim of fraudulent activity or is due a refund for a subscription service. Under either scenario, they will say the victim needs to download software to their computer, which in reality is malware that allows the criminal to view or access the victim’s bank account. In 2023, technology support scams were the second most costly elder fraud scam with victims losing nearly $600 million

Investment scams: Investment scams can take many forms. Among the most common are fake promissory notes, Ponzi or pyramid schemes, questionable real estate ventures, and more recently, cryptocurrency. These fraudulent investment opportunities are the costliest of the elder fraud schemes in terms of the losses suffered by victims. In 2023, this type of scam accounted for more than $1.2 billion lost by older adults, per the FBI report. 

Illegal call center scams: We have all probably gotten our share of scam calls, but sometimes they can be difficult to discern from legitimate ones. Oftentimes, phone scammers targeting older adults will call posing as a government official or a customer support representative. Sometimes the criminal will take on a friendly or helpful slant; other times they will be threatening to the call recipient. These phone scams cost older Americans nearly $770 million in 2023, with 40% of victims of such schemes being age 60 or older.

>> Related: How to Spot and Stop Elder Fraud

Confidence and romance scams … and the grandparent scam

The FBI has a special category for fraudsters who intentionally tug at the victim’s heartstrings: confidence and romance scams. In 2023, 6,740 individuals over the age of 60 reported such flimflams, and victims in this age group experienced almost $357 million in losses.

Romance scammers often use the internet to lure their victims, taking on a fake identity to gain the target’s affection or confidence. The criminal will then use that relationship to manipulate and/or steal money from the victim. In some cases, these crooks will even use what’s called “sextortion” if the victim shared any illicit photos with the scammer.

There’s another type of elder fraud in this category that is becoming increasingly common and can be downright terrifying to those who experience it: the so-called “grandparent scam.” In 2023, the FBI got over 200 grandparent scam complaints from people over the age of 60, with losses totaling around $2.3 million.

In this type of con, the criminal will usually call the victim and impersonate a panicked loved one, often a grandchild of an older adult. The impersonator will claim to be in serious trouble and in urgent need of money. This type of elder fraud is even more frightening in light of new artificial intelligence technology that allows the crook to create an AI-generated recording of an actual loved one’s voice.

>> Related: Charitable Contributions: Tips for Seniors to Safely Donate

Protecting yourself from elder fraud schemes

Criminals can be quite creative in devising new and elaborate ways to trick people out of their money. The rise of the internet and other technology advancements have made certain types of fraud even easier for criminals to perpetrate.

Unfortunately, older adult are often the targets of fraud schemes, jeopardizing the victim’s retirement savings and even their peace of mind. The FBI suggests a number of ways to help people avoid becoming the victim of elder fraud. Here are a few of their pointers:

  • Recognize scam attempts and end all communication with the scammer.
  • Search online for the contact information (name, email, phone number, addresses) and the proposed offer. Other people have likely posted information online about individuals and businesses trying to run scams.
  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.
  • Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door services offers.
  •  Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses.
  • Make sure all of your computer’s anti-virus security software and malware protections are up to date. Use reputable anti-virus software and firewalls.
  • Disconnect from the Internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message or locked screen. Perpetrators regularly use pop-ups to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a popup.
  • Be careful when you download anything from the internet. Never open an e-mail attachment from someone you don’t know, and also exercise caution with e-mail attachments forwarded to you.
  • Take precautions to protect your identity if a criminal gains access to your device or account. Immediately contact your financial institutions to place protections on your accounts, and diligently monitor your accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.

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A few additional precautions for older adults

There are some other areas in which older adults would be wise to take precautions in order to protect themselves from elder fraud.

The first pertains to legal documents such as power of attorney or finance-related forms. Before making any changes to documents that would allow someone access to your financial accounts, be certain the person has your best interests at heart. Unfortunately, some people will try to take advantage of older adults who might be lonely in order to swindle them out of their savings. This is a common tactic with romance scams, but it can also be employed by “friends” or family members who are looking for a quick buck.

The second area where older adults should use some extra caution is in choosing providers of household help or home care services. Once again, anytime you allow someone into your home and your life, you want to ensure they are worthy of your trust since they may have easy access to valuables or important documents. Be certain you are utilizing reputable, licensed, and insured companies who carefully vet their employees (including background checks).

Finally, if you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of elder fraud, contact your local police department, your local FBI field office, and/or submit an FBI tip online. Complaints can also be filed online with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

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