Elder financial abuse: Common scams and schemes

Seniors lost more than $3 billion to scammers last year, the FBI says. More than 100,000 people over 65 years old were victims of financial elder abuse, with an average loss of $9,175. Nearly 2,000 older Americans each lost more than $100,000 in 2020.

The FBI said that overall, California had the most fraud cases, topping 12,000 last year.

Schemers and scammers use a wide variety of con games to deceive victims. No matter the method used, in each elder financial abuse scam, perpetrators first gain the trust of victims in communications that can take place online, by traditional mail, in person or on the phone.

Common elder financial abuse scams

  • Romance: one of the most popular scams, it involves perpetrators pretending to be interested in romantic relationships with victims.
  • Tech support: perpetrators pretend to be tech support, often offering to “fix” non-existing computer problems. Instead, they gain remote access to the victim’s computer and access to their personal financial information.
  • Grandparent: in this scam, the perpetrator pretends to be a relative (often a child or grandchild) who is in dire and immediate financial straits.
  • Government: perpetrators pose as a government official who threatens to have the victim arrested or prosecuted unless they make immediate financial amends.
  • Sweepstakes/lottery: victims are told they’ve won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes that can be collected as soon as they pay a fee.
  • Home repair: perpetrators of this scam arrive at victims’ homes, claiming they’ll do home repairs or improvements. Unfortunately, the repairs/improvements never take place.
  • Family or caregivers: perpetrators are relatives, acquaintances or caregivers who take advantage of their relationship with the victims.

The FBI says that once perpetrators have successfully gained trust and access to victims’ money, they are likely to keep targeting the victim “because of the prospect of significant financial gain.”

Victims and victims’ families can get legal representation to gain the best outcome in these matters.