Awareness key to combatting financial scams against seniors

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Senior Americans are increasingly the target of financial scams, Linda Inmon, Extension specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), said. Scammers believe seniors have a great sum of money in their bank accounts with no apparent use for it.

“Older Americans are easier targets for scammers because they are viewed as being naive or senile,” she said. “Seniors become targets because of social isolation, their willingness to listen and because they are often more trusting than their younger counterparts.”

According to the AARP, losses due to elder fraud range from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion per year. While scammers prey on the vulnerabilities of older Americans as young as 50 years old, individuals between the ages of 70 and 79 suffer the greatest financial losses, with an average loss of $45,300.

“Those older than 70 are most commonly targeted by scammers impersonating Internal Revenue Service (IRS) collection officers,” Inmon said. “Because many of the scammers live outside the U.S., stolen money is typically not recovered.”

There is less financial gain for scammers targeting people between the ages of 50 and 59, she said. The average financial loss for this age group is $13,400, as individuals are less likely to be fooled by certain scams. However, Americans in their 50s are more susceptible to “sweetheart” scams and romance fraud. The lack of companionship among people in this age group makes them vulnerable to those posing as someone willing to share their life with them.

“When we think of scammers, we think of people who have little or no connection with their target, but that is not always the case,” Inmon said. “Many seniors are scammed by people they know and trust, including their own family members. In fact, over 90 percent of reported scams are committed by family members – most commonly adult children or grandchildren.”

Inmon said there are certain factors that may indicate a loved one is a target of financial abuse. Warning signs of financial scams include:

Bank withdrawals that are unusual or in large amounts.

Unexplained withdrawals or purchases made to credit cards.

Checks submitted for payment in random order.

Change in beneficiaries or authorized signers.

Sudden change in payment for bills.

Unexplained loss of property/valuables.

Large age difference in newly-formed relationships.

“Older Americans are a vulnerable population and we must help them understand how scams work and how not to be victims,” Inmon said. “If you or someone you know has been scammed, do not be afraid to report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission. Reporting scams spares others from emotional trauma and financial loss.”

Report fraud or financial exploitation by contacting the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov/complaint or by calling 202-326-2222 or toll free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

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