While sifting through your spam folder, it is more than likely that you have come across some email that’s clearly trying to bait you into falling for a scam. It may be some damsel in distress desperately reaching out to you for help. Or perhaps a business proposal from some bank official in some obscure, far-off country who just happens to be sitting on an unclaimed fortune that somehow requires your participation to redeem.
Most people very quickly recognize such correspondence for what it is and, not clicking any links, simply dispose of it. However, the fact that it is a lucrative practice is evidenced by the fact that it simply isn’t dying out, regardless of how many emails you delete, block, and report as spam. And the number of people who are taken in by such scams is growing every year.
Unfortunately, the majority of those victims are the elderly. According to the FBI, the elderly suffer losses upwards of a whopping $3 billion annually. Millions fall for these traps.
In this article, we outline some tips on how to stop elderly parents from giving money away, and what to do if your elderly parent is being scammed.
Why Your Parent May Be Targeted by Senior Scams and Frauds
Seniors make ideal targets for several reasons. For one thing, fraudsters know all too well that when it comes to technology, the older generation is the most likely to fall prey to scams.
They are more accommodating, and in many cases are lonely and yearning for companionship. They are past retirement, and so have more time and attention to spare for whatever it is the scammer is trying to get them to do. More importantly, they are usually in possession of a lifetime of savings, and probably own property.
And once the crime is done, seniors are less likely to have the know-how to provide the right information to trace the criminals. They may not even know which authorities to turn to, or if they do, might be too embarrassed to admit they were scammed.
The consequences are heart-breaking, aged parents simply give away their entire livelihood to heartless criminals. They are left with no options and no resources or time to start again.
So before we talk about what to do when a family member is being scammed, let’s first take a look at some of the common schemes out there.
Common Digital Traps
Confidence Fraud and Romance Scams
According to this report, this type of scheme is responsible for the majority of losses in victims over the age of 60. The idea is to manipulate the victims’ feelings. Scammers work to get into a position of trust with the victim before eventually taking off with their money. This is typically done using fake identities. They might take a religious approach, or lure the victim into a romantic relationship. Sometimes, the approach is more direct, and a scammer will pretend to be a close family member who urgently needs financial help. Once the scammer gains the victim’s trust, they might solicit financial help from them, pressure them into making investments, or just continuously enjoy gifts from the relationship.
Knowing that many of the elderly are sitting on handsome retirement funds, fraudsters devise different schemes to steal information like social security numbers, signatures, and other ID information. This information is then used to rack up bills on the victim’s behalf without their knowledge. The criminal might also use the victim’s personal information to receive benefits such as social security checks or to commit other crimes using the victim’s identity.
There is a whole range of too-good-to-be-true products that are targeted directly at the elderly. Scammers understand their needs and will try to sell them products that purport to do certain things but have little or no effect at all. This might include things like herbal solutions that combat aging, or unproven treatments for all sorts of afflictions, like joint pains.
Other types of adverts might have the scammer convince people to invest in some new opportunity. Usually, they are characterized as having little or no risk but with guaranteed returns that are very attractive. It is not unusual for an entire group of people – a church group for example – to be defrauded this way at the same time. In fact, there is a feeling of safety in numbers that gives the individuals a false sense of security and makes them more trusting. The investment proposals can vary and include everything from cryptocurrency to insurance and real estate. Scammers know that at that age, people want a greater sense of financial security as they are past retirement.
Tech Support Fraud
This type of scheme usually has an unscrupulous individual contact a victim, and walk them through some steps to solve a non-existent problem. In the process, the scammer gains access to the victim’s computer and acquires sensitive data. The road to this objective can take different routes. Some scammers play the numbers game, calling person after person and pretending to be tech support for some service and hoping they can get them to unwittingly share access to their data. Some rely on pop-ups that claim a virus has been found and certain steps must urgently be taken. Or they may simply email a victim asking them to renew or update their details for some service.
What to Do When A Family Member Is Being Scammed
The first thing to do when you suspect that a scam is taking place is to collect all the relevant information that would be useful to the authorities. This includes their identifying information, the methods of contact, dates, times, and frequency. If payments have been requested or even made, the transaction details, modes of payment, and any details of the communication with the criminal will also be of great use.
Irrespective of the extent of the scam and the amounts involved, make sure you report it to the appropriate authorities. For internet-related crimes, for example, the FBI has an Internet Crime Complaint Center. Or you can make use of the FBI’s Electronic Tip Form to provide them with information related to these types of crimes.
Tips To Protect Your Parents
In general, you’ll want to educate your parents on the existence of these crimes and the fact that they are constantly evolving. Ask them to extensively vet any suspicious individuals that attempt to coerce them into urgently taking some kind of action, no matter how friendly and kind they might seem. Usually, it is a good idea to end communication with them and directly contact the organization they are purporting to be from using official channels.
Other than that, you want to make sure they practice good habits to stay safe online. Ensuring that they do not share personal information on public platforms, keeping their accounts safe with secure passwords, having regularly updated anti-virus software, and being extra-careful with unsolicited messages, are all good places to start.