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The Top 5 Financial Scams Targeting Senior Adults

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by J.Adderton J.Adderton, MSN (Member) Writer Innovator Expert

J.Adderton has 20 years experience as a MSN .

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Senior Adults Financial Scams

Older adults are at increased risk of being scammed by sophisticated con artists. Not only are our patients at risk, but also personal senior family members and friends. And, the risk is significant with an estimated $2.9 billion lost by seniors to financial scams yearly. The first step to advocating for our patients is to raise our own awareness around the most common cons.

The Top 5 Financial Scams Targeting Senior Adults

According to a 2019 report from The Special Committee on Aging, older adults lose around $2.9 billion dollars a year to financial scams. Seniors are not only more vulnerable to fraud but are also financially hit the hardest.  Data from the Federal Trade Commission indicate that adults 80 years and older lost an average of $1,092 per case of reported fraud.

With more older adults embracing technology, scammers have easier and greater access to lucrative victims. There are other reasons seniors are targeted, including:

  • They are more likely to be financially secure, have larger savings accounts and valuable assets.
  • Were raised during the 1930s, ’40s, and '50s and taught to be polite and trusting
  • May not recognize sophisticated fraud schemes and wait longer to report it
  • More likely to have a cognitive or physical decline related to aging.
  • A lack of social and emotional support and isolation that increases vulnerability

What Are The Top 5 Financial Scams?

As part of a 2019 hearing on fighting elder fraud, the Special Committee on Aging released a report on the top 10 scams that targeted older adults in 2018.  The list was based on complaints received on the Committee’s Fraud Hotline.  

IRS Impersonation Scams

This scam is the top complaint and brought in twice as many calls as any other scams.  Scammers impersonate an IRS agent, call seniors and falsely accuse them of owing back taxes and penalties.  A large law enforcement push in October 2016 reduced complaint calls reporting this scam by 94 percent. The calls have since gone back up but remain below previous levels.

Robocalls

Robocalls or unsolicited calls were the second most called in a complaint to the hotline. Scammers often use phone numbers that resemble familiar or local numbers to trick victims in to answering the call.  Illegal robocalls are cheap to make and difficult for law enforcement to track. The FTC has brought lawsuits against over 600 companies and individuals responsible for billions of illegal calls.

Sweepstakes and Jamaican Lottery Scam

These calls lure people in with promises of a valuable prize. A person answers a call from Jamaica (or another country) and told they have won a foreign lottery or prize.  The catch? All the winner needs to do is pay for shipping, taxes, insurance and customs processing. The person is then directed to provide a bank account or credit card information or to wire the money.  The money is paid, however, the lottery and prize is a hoax. A Rhode Island woman was recently sentenced to prison for four years for laundering money through the Jamaican lottery scam.

“Can You Hear Me” Scam

A scammer calls and simply asks “Can you hear me?”.  Seems innocent enough and the victim replies with a simple “yes”.  This robocall is actually pre-recorded and is designed to identify numbers that someone is likely to answer.  Scammers use the “simple yes” for information to better connect with potential victims.

The Grandparent Scam

This is an older scam that plays on a senior’s heartstrings.  A scammer calls an older adult and pretends to be their grandchild.  The “fake” grandchild is experiencing a hardship (i.e. accident, legal troubles or other urgent financial need).  Also, the scammer plays the part well and can be very believable. The “grandchild” asks for financial assistance in the form of gift cards, cash or wired funds.  Unfortunately, a significant amount of time may pass before the victim realizes they have lost money to a scam.

What Can We Do as Nurses?

Nurses are on the frontlines in just about every healthcare setting and have an opportunity to advocate for seniors by educating and raising awareness around common scams. Part 2 of this article will provide tips and education points you can use in your nursing practice. In the meantime, you can read the article, "8 Tips for How Seniors Can Protect Themselves From Money Scams" here.

Are you aware of any scams targeting seniors that have impacted someone you know?


Additional Resources:

FBI- Fraud Against Seniors

Fighting Fraud; The Committee on Aging Report

Federal Trade Commission: Robocalls

A nurse with over 20 years nursing experience, enjoying a career over diverse settings and roles. Enjoys writing about what is encountered in her own nursing practice.

7 Followers; 69 Articles; 28,659 Profile Views; 296 Posts

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JadedCPN has 13 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Pediatrics, Pediatric Float, PICU, NICU.

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Pardon my ignorance as I've never worked with adults and especially not geriatrics in my entire career, but is this really something that falls onto nursing these days? Like in addition to the million other things that nurses have to do for patient safety and are expected to do for patient satisfaction, is educating them about financial scams also on that list? I'm genuinely curious. If so, I will make that another reason that I'll never go into adult world.

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J.Adderton has 20 years experience as a MSN.

7 Followers; 69 Articles; 296 Posts; 28,659 Profile Views

Yes, geriatrics and pediatrics two different specialty areas.  I have always appreciated peds nurses, especially when my daughter was smaller.  With her, all my nursing knowledge flew out the window.  I had potential to be the parent who "reacted" to every symptom.

The majority of my career, I have worked with older adult population (community health, home health, geri-psych) and currently inpatient rehabilitation.  I actually research common scams based on recent patient situations:  unable to purchase medications due to money lost, psych referral for depression (overseas dating scam) and others over the past few years. 

I think it is a good point of "having another thing to be responsible for" and I don't think it is realistic or appropriate to complete a thorough scam "assessment" for every patient.  However, for those who work with this population, it is beneficial to be aware social issues, like this, within the vulnerable older population.  Many times, it is a family member or caregiver who will tell what is going on- especially during discharge.

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I think that social issues like this should be dealt with by social workers rather than adding them to the never-ending list of tasks that are piled on nurses.

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futurepsychrn has 3 years experience as a ADN and specializes in Pschiatry.

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19 hours ago, JadedCPN said:

Pardon my ignorance as I've never worked with adults and especially not geriatrics in my entire career, but is this really something that falls onto nursing these days? Like in addition to the million other things that nurses have to do for patient safety and are expected to do for patient satisfaction, is educating them about financial scams also on that list? I'm genuinely curious. If so, I will make that another reason that I'll never go into adult world.

The only thing this could EVER, in a million years,  have to do with nursing is to report it if it is disclosed to us. In my opinion,  this is a non-nursing article.

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JadedCPN has 13 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Pediatrics, Pediatric Float, PICU, NICU.

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9 minutes ago, futurepsychrn said:

The only thing this could EVER, in a million years,  have to do with nursing is to report it if it is disclosed to us. In my opinion,  this is a non-nursing article.

Ok, that was my exact thought as well but I questioned if maybe I was missing something since I don't work geriatrics. 

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Well, I agree that this is not the main duty of nurses, but I believe that spreading the word about phone scam to everyone is our duty as a human. Phone scammers have been around annoying us for years, and they are very persistent. I have just read some reports filed at https://www.whycall.me/216-539-5360.html since last year about similar scams. It's really our responsibility as human to spread the word.

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