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What to Do if Your Elderly Parent is Being Scammed

An estimated five million people fall victim to financial scams every year. Due to the prevalent belief that older adults have large sums of saved money sitting in their bank accounts, the senior population is often targeted in these scams. Scammers who target the elderly know how to be convincing. They understand seniors might not be as familiar with technology as members of younger generations. They also know that even if the elderly do become suspicious that they may be falling victim to a scam, they will be too embarrassed to mention it to family or friends. To help protect your elderly parents assets, there are some common scams for which you should be on the lookout.

  • The Medicare or IRS Scam: In this scam, the scammer poses as an employee of the IRS, Medicare, or another government agency and requests personal information from the elderly person. They may claim the elderly person owes significant sums of money, and will be arrested for failure to pay. Once they have the person’s credit card or other identifying personal information, they can cause all sorts of financial damage, including elderly identity theft.
  • Internet Fraud: Internet fraud against the elderly can take a few forms. In one form, a pop-up window, complete with loud buzzing and flashing lights will appear on the screen. The pop-up may suggest a dangerous virus has infected the computer, which can only be resolved by calling a phone number. Once on the phone, the scammer will request large sums of money to fix the virus. The pop-ups are startling (even for a technologically savvy young adult) and difficult to get off the computer once they appear, so they are particularly convincing to a less computer-adept senior citizen. Other forms of internet fraud include emails asking the elderly person to update their personal information on a website they frequent by following a link in the email. The link send their information to the scammer instead.
  • Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams: These scams inform the elderly person they have just won a large sum of money, which they can only receive after paying taxes and fees on their winnings. Often, these scammers will send their target a check that will appear in their bank accounts making them seem legitimate. By the time the check bounces a few days later, the elderly person has already sent large sums of money to the scammers.

Luckily, there are several simple steps that can be taken to protect you or your elderly parent from being scammed.

  • Prevent elderly identity theft by shredding receipts and any other paperwork that may contain credit card numbers or other personal information.
  • Never give out credit card numbers or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call yourself. Agencies like the IRS and Medicare will always send letters in writing, never call or email for your personal information.
  • If a solicitor shows up at the front door, asking for money for a charity or offering to fix an issue with your house, politely but firmly decline. Let them know you don’t buy from (or give to) anyone that shows up unannounced and request that they mail you something in writing about their business or charity. Girl Scouts are perhaps the one notable exception to this rule, especially if they are toting a wagon full of cookies.

How to Report Senior Citizen Scams

An important part of what to do if your elderly parent is being scammed is to report the scam. A frustrating aspect of fraud scams on the elderly is that it often goes unreported, making it more difficult for the police and other legal services to combat it. As mentioned, these scams are unfortunately very common, and it is much easier to fall victim to one than you may think. There is no reason to be embarrassed. You can report senior citizen scams to Adult Protective Services as well as your local police. Should you receive a call from someone posing as an IRS agent, or agent from another government agency, report it to that agency as well. If you believe your credit card or banking information is compromised, contact the bank immediately. If you have been the victim of a scam, you are not alone, and there are many people and services waiting and willing to help you. Reach out to get the assistance you need and help prevent someone else from becoming a victim as well.

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