In a recent report the FBI says senior citizens are getting scammed at unprecedented rates. In 2020, older Americans 65 years and older lost almost 1 billion dollars.
A total of 105,301 people over the age of 65 were scammed, with an average loss of $9,175, and almost 2,000 older Americans lost more than $100,000, the report said.
Those numbers are compiled from the reported cases. There are some estimates that yearly loses could be as high as $3 billion if you consider the unreported cases of fraud. There are many reports that place the number of victims in the millions.
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Seniors are often targeted because they tend to be trusting and polite.
They also usually have financial savings, own a home and have good credit — all of which make them attractive to scammers.
Scams targeting senior affect nearly everyone, not just the victims. Many of us are either in that age group or have relatives who are. When a parent or grandparent loses their life savings it impacts the entire family.
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Here are the most common scams that con artists will try to use against seniors:
Criminals pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites to capitalize on their elderly victims’ desire to find companions.
Tech support scam
Criminals pose as technology support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammers gain remote access to victims’ devices and sensitive information.
Criminals pose as a relative — usually a child or grandchild — claiming to be in immediate financial need.
Government impersonation scam
Criminals pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments.
Criminals claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims’ trust. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can collect for a fee.
Home repair scam
Criminals appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide.
Criminals target potential victims using illegitimate advertisements about legitimate services, such as reverse mortgages or credit repair.
So what’s being done about these scams targeting seniors? There is pending federal legislation the Stop Senior Scams Act and Seniors Fraud Prevention Act. These are mostly educational measures. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has joined nearly every state Attorney’s General pushing for passage of the legislation.
In part, these laws will focus on educating those who interact with seniors, such as store employees and money wiring services on how to spot senior fraud and alert potential victims.
“Education” may seem like a half-hearted effort. But, in reality, it’s a pretty effective tool when used by all of us. It is a key component of preventing scams.
Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau.