senior online fraud

Protecting Seniors from Fraud & Scams: A Guide for Caregiver

Find out more about online scams, fraud targeting the elderly and how you can help protect your loved ones from cybercrimes.

by Hannef Esquander

What is Online Scam?

A scam is a word that we hear every day even though we are also trying to avoid it at all costs. Scam can be described as a fraudulent scheme that fools people into giving away their money for nothing in return. Back then, when you were looking to rent a new space or buy pre-loved items, you would look in the classified section in the paper, get in touch with the person and then do the transaction in-person. These days, everything has gone online including the scams. Second-hand and preloved online marketplace are the centres for online scammers luring their victims with all kinds of methods to take your hard-earned cash. Not all of these online marketplace sellers are scammers but it is very important for us to be cautious and never ever make any cash transfer before you are sure.

What is Elder Fraud?

The sad reality is how the most frequent target of scammers are the seniors or elderly individuals. Scammers specifically target the elderly, as they may be alone, are more free to listen and more trusting than younger individuals. Frauds or scams targeting the seniors are performed over the telephone, face-to-face or through advertisements. The seniors are prime targets to schemes attributed to health products and insurance plans, charities, credit cards, lucky draws or competitions, magazine subscriptions, home improvements, investments, banking or wire transfers.

What tactics do fraudsters use to take advantage of the seniors?

Several different tactics are used by the fraudsters to lure the seniors into traps. They are good at pretending to be friendly, sympathetic and helpful. In other cases, they could also use the element of fear. These different tactics are applied according to the situation and response given by the elderly person. For example, a fraudster might focus on charity. The fraudster would tell all the sad stories of people in need or about some charity organisations that require funding to continue to run. They would use photographs and fake documents to prove the validity of the charity. The elderly person would be so touched by all the sad stories and how unfortunate the situation is for the people involved that they would not even think twice about offering their money to the charity that does not even exist.

Why These Scams Happen

It is not the fault of the seniors for being the easiest target for all these scams. Older people are mostly trustworthy and they are more financially stable but have decreased in cognition due to varying ailments. Here are some of the characteristics and reasons why the seniors are vulnerable to scammers.

Isolated

Loneliness is tough. It can be even tougher on the elderly. Being emotional and lonely make them become extremely susceptible to scams. Seniors who are isolated have no one to provide a check-in on their finances. It may be far too late to do anything if a loved one finds out about it years later. Isolated elderly also take comfort in social interaction, which is why a lot of scammers use relationships as a way to trap them into their fraud schemes.

Money Situation

An elderly person’s financial situation is a major reason why they become targets for scams. Those who are on a retirement plan and have money put aside for their future are living more comfortably and less strict with their money. All it takes is a simple email asking for donation or sent by someone posing as a relative. Before they knew it, thousands were gone. On the other hand, the less financially stable seniors will continuously find different ways to improve their living. Pyramid schemes and ‘passive income’ are opportunities that they can never resist.

Trusting

The older generation are also generally more trusting than the younger generations. This will make them susceptible to con artists who want to find the most vulnerable personalities.

Insecure

In some circumstances, the elderly simply get pressured into handing over money to scammers. A scammer could harass an elderly person just through phone calls for money until they break. They might even be targeted for their own insecurities like their health or social status, signing them up for fake health plans or getting them to buy expensive medicines that can cure their illnesses.

Lowered Cognition/Age

Older people are more likely to have some sort of cognitive brain condition like dementia, which affects memory and overall cognitive function. These cognitive conditions can affect their memory. Scammers will attack these weaknesses. For instance, a scammer can call someone in their eighties pretending to be their grandchild. The elderly person may remember they have a grandchild, but they may not remember their actual names or what they sound like, so they will go along with whatever the scammer is saying.

Embarrassment

The seniors can simply get embarrassed by getting scammed that they decide to remain silent. This makes them attractive targets because scammers know there is a high chance they will never get caught. Elder scams remain unreported due to many elderly people having no idea where to go or who could actually help them.

Top Scams Targeting Seniors

Pyramid Schemes

Multi-level marketing (MLM) should not be mistaken for a pyramid scheme. Unfortunately, there are pyramid schemes that pose as MLM business. The seniors are the easiest target as they want to be involved in something that can keep themselves busy and help them make some profit.
Upon joining these scam MLM businesses, the elderly victims will find themselves paying expensive registration fees, stocks of pricey products that are impossible to sell or even training or workshop that requires them to fork out even more money.

Lucky Draw Or Contest Scams

By now, most of us know the rules when it comes to internet pop ups, unknown links sent via email and fishy text messages. We ignore them. Some work by asking the targeted victim to send participation fees to redeem their lottery or lucky draw winnings. Others use well known or big company names to gain the trust of the unfortunate victims in an attempt to gain access to their private banking information via web or phishing software. 

Sadly enough, the seniors find these attractive ‘prizes’ to be hard to miss especially if they are in financial constraint. In fact, it is not easy for anyone to say no to the potential life-changing cash prizes. Knowledge will make all the differences in decision making.

Hajj And Umrah Scams

While Umrah is not compulsory in Islam, Hajj is one of the five pillars of the religion. Muslims are looking forward to finally being able to set their foot in the holy land of Makkah making them vulnerable to scammers offering impossibly cheap Umrah and Hajj packages. These cheap packages do not exist and by the time they realise, it will be too late and impossible to trace the agency which might possibly be unregistered. According to the Tourism and Culture Ministry, there have been a total of 359 reported cases of umrah fraud since 2012, with total losses of RM12.4 million.

Real Estate Scams

This type of scam has been around the longest. It has been targeting people of all age groups for ages. It is easier for the younger internet generation to do background checks online or through other trusted sources and databases. Unfortunately, it can be a bit tricky for the seniors as they are not as savvy as us. A lot of money will end up in the hands of the scammer for payment of a piece of land or property that most probably does not even exist. These scammers are hard to trace as every little piece of information provided is fake, down to the company’s name and contact number.

Medical Supplement And Healthcare Scams

Once you get to a certain age, you will have no choice but to come face to face with health problems and realise how your health is starting to deteriorate. The seniors tend to fall sick easier. It is no surprise that the health issues of the seniors will become the target for scammers offering alternative medications and promises of better health or even special magic pills that can make them younger.

Sold as supplements and new technology in medical research, the seniors will be the most vulnerable to the scammers, losing money and risking their lives in the process. These medicines and supplements might bring them more harm than good.

Macau Scam

We have all heard of Macau scam and so many stories from the victims have been shared and published by the media. It is hard to believe that there are still people who fall victim to this scam despite the widespread coverage. Victims of the Macau scam lose their lifetime savings and hundreds of thousands of ringgit that they will never get back.

Macau scams operate via phone calls. The scammer pretends to be a police officer, debt collector, a representative from a law firm or customs department. The victim will be asked to transfer a certain amount of money from their bank account to clear their name from being blacklisted and have their accounts frozen, brought to court for a crime like money laundering or have their parcels to be released.

We have all heard of the Macau scam and so many stories from the victims have been shared and published by the media. It is hard to believe that there are still people who fall victim to this scam despite the widespread coverage. Victims of the Macau scam lose their lifetime savings and hundreds of thousands of ringgit that they will never get back.

Macau scams operate via phone calls. The scammer pretends to be a police officer, debt collector, a representative from a law firm or customs department. The victim will be asked to transfer a certain amount of money from their bank account to clear their name from being blacklisted and have their accounts frozen, brought to court for a crime like money laundering or have their parcels to be released.

Risk For the Elderly

A study in 2011 AARP Foundation in America revealed that only 25 per cent of people older than 50 reported to an authority that they had fallen for a scam. According to Statistics Canada, about seven in 10 crimes against older Canadians are never reported to police because victims did not believe the incident was important enough to seek help or because they dealt with the issue personally.

Even when a scam is averted, sometimes the potential elderly victim may still suffer psychological damage. The elderly who are victimised by crime or who feel threatened by scammers may suffer these repercussions:

  • Physical and emotional impact: In most cases, seniors recuperate at a slower speed and life-threatening illnesses can occur.
  • Unable to recover financially: The elderly who lose income from a scam often struggle even more if they are living on a fixed income.
  • Diminished quality of life: The trauma experienced by elderly scam victims will cause them to worry about it recurring and endless regret from the poor decision that they made leading them to become distressed, embarrassed and losing self-confidence.
  • Vicarious victimisation: The National Center on Elder Abuse identified a phenomenon called ‘vicarious victimisation,’ which means the elderly have not been a victim, but he or she fears being one. They will consciously alter their lifestyle by being less social and avoiding any possible situation that demands them to have interaction with other people. The outside world will become scary for them and they will end up spending all of their days at home.

Preventing Online Scams

It may seem like a lot of effort but remember that your parents and elderly relatives need your help. Here are some of the things that you can do:
Tell your parents that it is better for them to be more discreet about their financial situation. Details of their retirement plans or savings are nobody’s business especially those who are not close family members.

Tell them that you are always available for them to discuss possible business ventures or purchasing anything that costs a lot of money. They might have a lot of questions but just tell them you want to always make sure that they are safe.

Show your full understanding of their situation especially if they have experienced being scammed and lose a lot of money. Always tell them that they can always come to you to avoid making the same mistake.

Seek advice from professionals such as a certified financial planner to keep every detail of your parents’ financial security secure.

Talking with Your Loved Ones

It is important to begin a dialogue with your parents about how to recognise common scams and protect themselves from exploitation. Use the following pointers to get the conversation started.

  • Discuss how much time has changed

Most elderly love to talk about ‘how things used to be’. This is a good opportunity to ask them why and how they think things have changed. You can direct the conversation towards technology and how criminals and scams have evolved.

Do a quick search of their names on the Internet and show them how much information is available about them online. You can then tell them about how the information can be accessed easily by scammers. It is easier for them to see the bigger picture when it is right in front of them or in this case on their computer screen. 

  • Recommend further reading on the topic

Share how-to articles with the elderly especially those about fraud prevention and protection. The articles will give them better ideas about what they can do and how to handle the situation. Tell them about how important the articles are and how much the information included in the articles have helped you too.

  • Make it a two-way conversation

Engage the elderly in conversation instead of telling them what to do. Older people have been making their own decisions for their entire lives. They believe that they have got everything under control. Even if your conversation about scams and fraud was not very well-received at first, at least you know that you have created awareness in them. If they were to be contacted by scammers, at least the conversation that you had with them will make them think twice about giving away personal information. They might even get back to you to share the experience.

Creating awareness among the elderly about how much they are being targeted by scammers will help them to be more cautious and mindful. If a senior is living alone, Homage can provide an extra set of alert eyes and ears for reassurance and protection as another way to help prevent crime.

Homage also offers care packages that can help you save up to 20% of the caregiving cost. Alternatively, you can consider a la carte service options to better suit your care needs.

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References

Here are the Top Online Scams You Need to Avoid Today. Heimdal Security website. Available at: https://heimdalsecurity.com/blog/top-online-scams/. Updated: July 16, 2021. Accessed August 8, 2021.

Internet Scams. Thompson Rivers University website. Available at: https://www.tru.ca/truworld/new-students/before-you-leave-home/important-facts/internet-scams.html. Accessed Aug 8, 2021.

Fraud Examiners. ACFE website. Available at: https://www.acfe.com/fraud-examiner.aspx?id=4294997223. Accessed August 8, 2021.

Top Internet Scams Affecting The Elderly. Aging In Place website. Available at: https://aginginplace.org/internet-scams-affecting-elderly/. Accessed August 8, 2021.

Scams Targeting the Elderly and How to Protect Our Parents From Them. Ringgitplus website. Available at: https://ringgitplus.com/en/blog/personal-finance-news/scams-targeting-the-elderly-and-how-to-protect-our-parents-from-them.html. Updated: October 22, 2021. Accessed August 8, 2021

DeLiema, Marguerite and Deevy, Martha and Lusardi, Annamaria and Mitchell, Olivia S., Exploring the Risks and Consequences of Elder Fraud Victimization: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study (December 1, 2017). Michigan Retirement Research Center Research Paper No. 2017-364, Wharton Pension Research Council Working Paper No. 2018-06, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3124952 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3124952

The Impact of Crime. CaregiverStress website. Available at: https://www.caregiverstress.com/senior-safety/senior-fraud/insurance-fraud/. Updated: July 9, 2012. Accessed August 8, 2021.

Scams are taking a heavy emotional toll on senior citizens. Market Watch website. Available at: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/scams-are-taking-a-heavy-emotional-toll-on-senior-citizens-2020-03-05. Updated: March 5, 2020. Accessed August 8, 2021.

How to Talk to Your Parents About Fraud. Aging Care website. Available at: https://www.agingcare.com/articles/how-to-talk-to-parents-about-fraud-181207.htm. Accessed August 8, 2021

About the Writer
Hannef Esquander
With more than a decade of experience writing about all different aspects of lifestyle; from entertainment and fashion to art and travels, Hannef now finds himself gaining interest towards health, well-being and spirituality.
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