The FBI Identifies The 10 Most Common Scams Targeting Seniors

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Top Senior Fraud

Who better to rely on for data related to the latest scams targeting seniors than the FBI? No one. That's why we chose to put together a list of the various senior scams and frauds the FBI has identified as the most common targeting older Americans. We also added a list put together by the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging for good measure.

Review it, understand it and memorize it. Knowing this list can help you avoid minor wallet busters and devastating financial loss.

The Justice Department estimates upwards of $3 billion is stolen and defrauded from American seniors every year. Include family members and all unreported crimes and the number can climb to over $37 billion per year, according to research done by Nick Leiber in a piece he did for Bloomberg.

Here's the list of 10 of the most common senior scams identified by the FBI. Many of these scams follow a few common strategies, most rely on the trustworthiness of older adults. Many try to rush seniors into a decision that can't wait. They often prey on the loneliness of seniors. Regardless, read through the list and share it! The more people know, the safer we'll all be.

Top 10 Senior Scams

  • Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams: The fraudster promises a big win, but you have to pay a small tax or handling fee;

  • Sweetheart Scams: The fraudster promises love, companionship, romance but just needs some cash to pay off debts or a medical emergency;

  • Government Impersonation Frauds: The scammer pretends to be an IRS agent and needs you to transfer funds immediately to avoid legal action, property seizure or further penalty for a made-up financial violation like owing back taxes;

  • Technology Fraud: The scammer convinces his victim he needs a product or service to fix a problem that doesn't exist;

  • Product Fraud: The senior is convinced to buy something at an artificially high price or to buy a product because it promises to do something it can't (extend life, cure cancer, improve memory, etc...);

  • Debit Card Fraud: A family member, caregiver, advisor or friend uses a debit or credit card without permission;

  • Forgery Fraud: A family member, caregiver, advisor or friend signs a check, vehicle title or other legal document without permission;

  • Unauthorized Sale: A Family member, caregiver, advisor or friend sells victim's property (jewelry, electronics, art, cars, etc...) without permission;

  • Gift Fraud: The scammer tells a senior their gift will be used for one thing, such as tuition or charity, but use it for something else;

  • Bullying: The senior is threatened with physical harm if they don't provide money.

The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging did a separate study of their own and ranked the number of complaints filed with the Aging Committee Fraud Hotline over a 12 month period and it seemed to match up pretty well with the FBI's list. Their list of the most common senior scams looked as follows:

Type of ScamNumber of Complaints
IRS Impersonation Scams381
Robocalls / Unsolicited Phone Calls166
Sweepstakes / Jamaican Lottery Scam111
"Can you hear me"?97
Grandparent Scam87
Computer Scam79
Romance Scam64
Elder Financial Abuse51
Identity Theft40
Government Grant Scam37

As you can see, fraud isn't always coming from anonymous strangers. Far from it. Oftentimes, it's people that are in a position of trust, such as a family member, caregiver, friend or financial adviser that takes advantage of a senior's cognitive decline, ailing health or trusting nature.

Precautions To Avoid Getting Scammed

There are some practical precautions you can take to reduce the chances of you or a loved one becoming a victim. Here are just a few tips recommended by the FBI and Department of Justice:

  • Speak to your lawyer before signing any legal documents;

  • Check your bank, credit card and investment statements every month for unfamiliar transactions;

  • Do not engage with unsolicited contacts. Whether it's a phone call, email or letter, only engage if you reached out first. If it's the IRS, call them back and use the internet to find their phone number. If it's an email from your bank, call them on the number behind your debit or credit card and verify the issue;

  • Consult your doctor before agreeing to any procedures or buying any expensive treatments, medications, vitamins or herbs;

  • Store financial materials in a safe, locked drawer or out of view;

  • Keep jewelry, cash, credit cards and other valuables under lock and key or out of sight;

  • Check your credit report periodically to ensure there are no loans in your name you don't recognize.

If you feel like you've been the victim of a scam or a fraud, report it. Do not be embarrassed or ashamed. Millions of people get victimized every year. You're not alone. Speak to a trusted family member, lawyer, accountant or financial advisor to get help and call your local FBI office or police department.