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Elder Fraud is on the Rise. Protect Yourself and Your Loved One!

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May 3, 2024 •  Emily Hicks Law, PLLC
Financial exploitation and fraud is one of the least reported forms of elder abuse. Learn more about scams to look for.

Our elder population, those over the age of 60, are often targeted in fraud cases because criminals consider them to be less tech savvy, more likely to have physical or mental impairments, and less likely to report scams out of fear of losing financial independence. It's important for seniors and their caregivers to know the warning signs!

More than 3.5 million seniors fall victim to fraud each year according to reports and estimations with an average loss of $35,000 per victim. 

This Cyber Crime and Seniors slide show put together by the state of Florida is a great resource to educate us about the dangers of fraud and how to protect yourself.

Types of Scams

We've put together a list of common scams, but this list is in no way all-inclusive. Fraudsters are smart and they are using technology to move faster than the laws that protect our seniors. We encourage anyone out there who experiences a scam to report it.

  1. Phone Calls - Scammers can set up robocalls with spoofed area codes to look like they are calling from the victim’s local area or with the caller ID of a government agency. The calls will often inform the victim that they owe money or need to take immediate action on an issue. For example, they may tell a senior that their loved one is in jail and needs money to get them out.
  2. Online Scams - Websites created by scammers may appear legitimate, and the domain name may even be a slight modification of a well-known brand, like an extra "dash" or letter thrown in. Consumers are often lured into these sites by their great deals, but the products they advertise are wildly different from what’s received, or they never arrive at all. 
  3. Tech Support Scams - Tech support scammers tell victims their computer is having issues that they can help resolve. They make money by asking seniors to pay for services that aren’t needed. Scammers may also ask for remote access to your computer, but keep in mind tech support companies may do this to resolve technical issues as well but you shouldn’t grant remote access if you haven’t vetted whoever’s on the other end.  
  4. Romance Scams - Romance scammers will create attractive fake profiles on dating sites or social media, then reach out to vulnerable people and develop a relationship through chatting or texting. They are very clever and generally make excuses for why they can’t meet in person. At some point, romance scammers ask their victims for money using family situations or unfortunate turn of events as the reason why they need the money.
  5. Sweepstakes Scams - Did you randomly win a million dollars in a sweepstakes that you did not enter? In the typical pattern of a sweepstakes fraud, the victim is congratulated on winning money. However, to receive it, they must pay a large processing fee or tax, and the victim never receives the winnings. Legitimate lotteries like Mega Millions or Powerball will never charge participants money to receive their prizes.

An Example out of California

In November of 2023, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the conviction of Betty Ann Engelbrecht, a woman from Placer County who has been found guilty of financially defrauding her elderly mother, stealing over $500,000 from her bank account. Engelbrecht was convicted of two felony counts following an investigation and prosecution led by the California Department of Justice. This case highlights the prevalent yet underreported issue of elder financial exploitation and fraud, with family members being the perpetrators in a majority of cases, according to the National Council of Aging.

“All too often, our elder citizens are made victims of abuse and fraud by those they should be able to trust the most— their own family,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Not only is this a cruel betrayal of trust, it can wreak havoc on the health, mental health, and financial safety of our seniors.

Reference: State of California Department of Justice, (November 15, 2023) Attorney General Bonta Announces Conviction in Placer County Elder Abuse Case

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