Don't fall victim to the many types of elder fraud
November 1, 2021 | View PDF
Q: Today I read about a San Francisco couple who had $363,000 stolen from their bank accounts by their caregiver. How do I protect myself so this doesn’t happen to me?
A: I read about that incident too, and can understand why you are concerned. On the Federal Bureau of Investigation website the agency reports that each year millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud.
With an older adult population growing proportionally larger compared to other generations, and losses totaling over $3 billion annually, financial fraud will likely continue to rise.
Elder fraud committed by strangers can include scams involving tech support, romance, grandparents, government impersonation, sweepstakes and lotteries, home repairs.
Financial exploitation methods commonly committed by relatives and caregivers include:
- taking older person’s money, property or valuables
- borrowing money (often repeatedly) without paying it back
- denying services or medical care in order to conserve funds
- giving away or selling the elder’s possessions without permission
- signing or cashing in pension or social security checks without permission
- misusing debit or credit cards, or using them without permission of the cardholder
- giving the older adult’s money to family or friends
- coercing an older person to part with resources or convincing them to sign over property
For more information on these scams, visit the FBI website at https://bit.ly/3Eimsw2.
In a 2021 published report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, during 2020 there were over $1 billion in losses to victims over 60. The average dollar loss was $9,175, with over 105,301 victims. This data indicates an increase of $300 million in losses for 2020 versus what was reported by victims over age 60 in 2019.
The Alaska Office of Public Advocacy indicates for every one fraudulent event reported against older adults, there are 25 incidents that go unreported. Cases aren’t reported due to disabilities, which inhibit someone over 60 unable to report abuse. Some seniors do not know or understand they have been financially exploited, fear they will not be believed, associate a stigma with being a crime victim, depend on their family or paid caregiver for help, fear retaliation by the perpetrator, or fear loss of independence should they tell anyone once they discover they have been exploited.
What if I have been a victim?
If you suspect you have been a victim of financial fraud there are many agencies you can reach out to:
- Local FBI Field Office
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman
- Alaska Medicaid Fraud Control Unit
- Consumer Protection Agency
- Alaska Commission on Aging
- Office of Public Advocacy
- Federal Trade Commission
- Adult Protective Services
While Alaska ranks 36th in the number of victims per state, there were still over $2.5 million in consumer losses sustained by victims over age 60. Alaska is the most rapidly aging state in the U.S. Currently 91,281 people over age 65 reside in Alaska. Continue to educate yourself, family members, and friends about types of fraud against seniors and report tactics of intimidation, threats or crimes immediately if you are victimized.
Be alert to scam situations, and end all communication with the perpetrator.
Be cautious of unsolicited emails, phone calls, texts, mailings or door-to-door service offerings.
Resist pressure to act immediately after receiving an email, phone call, text or mailing about a lottery winning, inheritance, romantic connection, tech support offer, repair service special or threat from a government official.
Never give or send personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, presents, checks or wire transfers to unverified persons or businesses.
Install computer firewalls, use reputable antivirus software, and be sure all computer and antivirus and security software and malware protections are up-to-date. Ask others for help if you do not know how to update your computer or cell phone.
Immediately disconnect from the internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message that your screen is about to lock up. Pop-ups are regularly used by criminals to spread malicious software.
Be wary of items or documents you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know, and be cautious if you see a strangely worded email from someone in your contact list. Email attachments from unknown individuals can be problematic. Be alert when clicking on emails or embedded links.
Regularly monitor your bank and social media accounts, reporting suspicious activity to appropriate agencies immediately. Perpetrators will often test the waters by charging small amounts first, then make larger purchases if they go undetected.
Safeguard all your data, online and in person at the point of sale.
Do not use unsecured websites or post sensitive information on social media.
Use mobile payment apps when possible.
Do not save your credit card info online. Obtain a virtual credit card number to be used for online purchases.
Shop in stores that have chip readers to protect your credit card number.
Use a password manager like Bitwarden or Last Pass.
Karen Casanovas, PCC, CPCC, is a restorative coach in Anchorage. If you have a question for Karen, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.