Elder Fraud and Internet Scams
Elder fraud, also known as elder financial exploitation or elder financial abuse, is the act of taking advantage of an elderly person by misappropriation or fraudulent deprivation of their money or property. This type of abuse causes devastating financial harm to the victim, and often occurs in the context of a relationship where the perpetrator is in a position of trust.
Criminals gain their targets’ trust and communicate with them directly via computer, phone, and the mail; or indirectly through the TV and radio. They may send phishing emails to glean information, and then use targeted attacks to help deceive a victim into going along with a scam. Once successful, scammers are likely to keep a scheme going because of the prospect of significant financial gain. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were over 35,000 cases of fraud reported in Massachusetts in 2020. These instances resulted in over $42 million in total loss.
Seniors are disproportionately targeted as victims of fraud because they tend to be more trusting. They are also often in financial situations that are attractive to scammers; many seniors have substantial savings, own a home, and have good credit. Additionally, seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed at having been scammed.
Tips to Protect Yourself:
- Once you recognize a scam, discontinue all communication and report the incident.
- If you suspect a scam, search online for the contact information (name, email, phone number, addresses) of the suspected scammer. Other people have likely posted information online about individuals and businesses trying to run scams.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau to see if a company, charity, or organization is credible.
- If an individual is pressuring you to act quickly, resist the request. Scammers often create a false sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action.
- Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door services offers. It is okay to hang up or close the door.
- Register for the Do Not Call list.
- Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses.
- Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment or click on a website link from someone you don’t know.
- If a criminal gains access to your device or accounts, immediately contact your financial institutions to place protections on your accounts and monitor them for suspicious activity.
- Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.
How to Report Fraud:
Federal Trade Commission
Online Fraud Report Form: https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/
Identity Theft Report Form: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Info-Lost-or-Stolen
Do Not Call Registry: https://www.donotcall.gov/
Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office
U.S. DOJ Elder Fraud Hotline: 833-FRAUD-11 (833-372-8311)
Massachusetts Elder Abuse Hotline: (800) 922-2275
Tips for Seniors to Avoid Scams: https://www.ncoa.org/article/22-tips-for-seniors-to-avoid-scams
FTC Avoiding and Reporting Scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts
National Consumers League: https://fraud.org/
Snopes Fraud & Scams News: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/category/fraud/