Tackling the elder fraud epidemic in America | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 19, 2024

BY THE OPTIMIST DAILY EDITORIAL STAFF

According to the FBI, elder fraud has reached alarming levels, with Americans aged 60 and over losing more than $3 billion in scams by 2023. To put this astronomical figure in context, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour recently made headlines for being the first concert to make $1 billion, which pales in comparison to the financial losses incurred by older Americans.

The effects of these scams go beyond financial loss. Victims frequently endure trauma, intense humiliation, and self-doubt, which can strain their relationships and undermine their mental and physical health. Teaching seniors how to recognize and avoid fraud, as well as how to report it, is critical to combatting this prevalent problem.

Why are seniors so vulnerable?

The FBI’s latest study emphasizes the prevalence of elder fraud. In 2023, complaints from Americans over the age of 60 to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) climbed by 14 percent, with an 11 percent increase in projected financial losses. These figures certainly underestimate the full scale of the problem, given only approximately half of internet crime reports indicate the victim’s age. Furthermore, these estimates do not include phone, postal, or in-person scams, which many victims do not report owing to shame, fear, or ignorance about what to do.

Older folks are frequently targeted because they are more trusting and polite, have financial savings, own homes, and have decent credit—all appealing features to scammers. Furthermore, elders may be less familiar with new technologies, leaving them more vulnerable to tech-related scams. Many older people retired before the widespread adoption of technologies such as cell phones, leaving them without workplace training, which frequently includes lectures on preventing online fraud.

Common scams and their impacts

In 2023, the most commonly reported type of elder fraud was technical support scams. Other scams include romance schemes, online shopping swindles, and investment frauds. While cyber scams are common, investment scams are the most financially devastating, accounting for nearly half of all reported losses among people aged 60 and up last year.

Fraudulent call centers are known for targeting older persons, accounting for 40 percent of all recorded elder fraud incidents in 2023 and causing at least $770 million in losses. These frauds frequently use advanced technology such as artificial intelligence for voice cloning and deepfake movies to trick victims. 

In one major example in 2022, over 600 victims lost approximately $40 million due to a single timeshare fraud. In the latter half of 2023, scammers posing as government officials or technical assistance agents persuaded victims to liquidate their assets or buy precious metals, leading to losses of more than $55 million.

Strategies for prevention

Elder fraud can be prevented by education and monitoring. The FBI provides some ways to assist older Americans in safeguarding themselves.

  • If there is an imminent danger, contact the police immediately.
  • Be cautious with unsolicited phone calls, mail, and door-to-door services.
  • Do not click on unsolicited links sent by email or text; never accept email attachments from unknown sources.
  • Before doing business with someone or a company, look up their names, emails, phone numbers, and addresses. Most genuine businesses have an online presence. Plus, if it is a scam others may already have provided information on it.
  • Never give your personal information, money, jewelry, gift cards, cheques, or wire transfers to unconfirmed parties.
  • Keep your computer’s anti-virus and security software up to date.
  • Use pop-up blockers to avoid clicking on fraudulent messages, and if one does appear, unplug from the internet and turn off your device.
  • Do not allow remote access to your devices to unknown individuals.
  • If you are asked to lie to your bank or keep a secret from family or friends, it is most certainly a scam.
  • Resist the need to respond quickly; respectable businesses will not rush your financial selections.
  • Trust your gut feeling.
What to do if you’ve been scammed

If you become a scam victim, take immediate action to protect your identity and financial assets.

  • Contact your banking institutions to have your accounts protected and monitored for unusual activity.
  • Report it to your local FBI field office or leave a tip online if the crime took place over the Internet.
  • Include specific details in your report, such as names, dates, contact methods, phone numbers, emails, addresses, payment methods, and interaction descriptions.
  • Keep the original papers, emails, faxes, and correspondence logs.

Support from trusted individuals or groups, such as the AARP Fraud Watch Network and the Cybercrime Support Network’s Peer Support Program, can be extremely beneficial. If the emotional impact is overpowering, consult a counselor, therapist, or medical expert.

Scammers targeted former FBI director William Webster at the age of 90, indicating that no one is immune. Reporting these assaults and sharing experiences are critical steps in addressing the problem.

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