Elder Fraud: A Growing Epidemic Targeting Older Americans

In 2023, Americans aged 60 and older lost over $3 billion to scammers, according to the FBI. To put that staggering figure into perspective, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour recently made headlines as the first concert tour to earn $1 billion. Elder fraud has reached an epidemic scale, with devastating consequences for its victims.

Laurie Archbald-Pannone, an Associate Professor of Medicine and Geriatrics at the University of Virginia finds these statistics alarming. Many older adults are especially vulnerable to fraud, and the consequences can be devastating. Beyond financial loss, the experience often leads to feelings of shame, self-doubt, and trauma, which can harm relationships and erode trust in others.

Elder Fraud is on the Rise

The FBI’s recent report underscores the growing prevalence of elder fraud. In 2023, Americans over 60 submitted 14% more complaints to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center than the previous year, with estimated financial losses rising by about 11%.

However, these numbers likely underrepresent the true extent of the problem. Many incidents go unreported due to embarrassment, fear, or uncertainty. Older adults are particularly targeted because they tend to be more trusting, have financial savings, and may be less familiar with new technologies.

Common Scams Targeting Seniors

In 2023, tech-support scams were the most commonly reported elder fraud. Other common scams include romance scams, online shopping swindles, and investment frauds. Investment scams are the costliest, accounting for nearly half of all reported losses from those over 60 last year.

Fraudulent call centers are also a significant problem, making up 40% of reported elder fraud cases in 2023 and accounting for at least $770 million in losses. These scams often use advanced technologies like voice-cloning and “deepfake” videos to deceive victims.

Combating the Epidemic

Preventing elder fraud requires awareness and education. Here are some FBI-approved tips to help older adults protect themselves:

Be Cautious of Unsolicited Contacts:

Avoid unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door service offers.

Don’t Click Unsolicited Links:

Be wary of clicking on links in unsolicited emails or texts.

Verify Identities:

Research unknown individuals or businesses before interacting.

Protect Personal Information:

Never give personal information, money, or valuables to unverified sources.

Keep Software Updated:

Ensure antivirus and security software are up to date.

Use Pop-Up Blockers:

Enable pop-up blockers to avoid malicious content.

Avoid Remote Access:

Don’t give unknown individuals remote access to your devices.

Resist Pressure:

Scammers often create a false sense of urgency; take your time to make informed decisions.

Trust Your Instincts:

If something feels off, it probably is.

Steps to Take if You’ve Been Scammed

If you fall victim to a scam, know that recovery is possible. Here are the steps to take:

Secure Your Accounts:

Contact your financial institutions to protect your accounts.

Report the Crime:

Contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online.

Keep Records:

Preserve original documents, emails, and communication logs.

Seek Support:

Talk to trusted friends or family, and consider joining support groups like the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

Get Professional Help:

Speak with a counselor, therapist, or your medical team if needed.

Even former FBI director William Webster, at age 90, was targeted by scammers – an experience he bravely shared to raise awareness.

By talking openly about elder fraud and sharing these experiences, we can help protect others and work towards ending this devastating crime.

Stop Responding to Threats.
Prevent Them.

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