Elder financial abuse: Five scams that target seniors

It’s unfortunate but true that older adults are more likely to be targets of scammers than any other age group. Because many seniors own their homes, have substantial savings and other assets, they are targeted for elder financial abuse perpetrated by family members, friends, caregivers, partners and professional scammers and schemers.

Let’s take a look at some of the scams operated by pros focused on seniors:

Preying on the grieving

How it works: following the death of their spouse, a widow or widower is contacted by a scammer who says their loved one died with an outstanding debt that must be paid. The surviving spouse – often struggling with their loss – is then harassed, typically by phone, to pay off the amount the scammer claims is owed.

Phony government officials

How it works: a scam that is popular around tax time begins with a call from someone purporting to be from the Internal Revenue Service (they’re often able to make Caller ID read “IRS”), telling the target that they owe taxes and must pay up now. In another phony official scam, a caller claims the target has missed jury duty and that a warrant has been issued for their arrest. They must pay a fee to resolve the matter before the police arrive.

‘You’re a winner!’

How it works: this one begins with a call or email that identifies the target as the winner of a lottery or contest with a big prize. The catch is that the “winner” must first pay a fee to cover the cost of the fund transfer and other expenses.

Stolen hearts and more

How it works: one of the schemes that often result in large financial losses for victims. Scammers target seniors using online dating sites to find lonely, vulnerable prey. The plan: form a relationship that appears to be romantic so that trust is gained. Then scammers will share a heartbreaking story and plead for financial help.

Too-good-to-be-true investments

How it worksMSN reports that there’s a wide variety of these scams, including Ponzi schemes, pyramid, advance-fee and 419. At the heart of all the schemes is a promise of enormous returns for a modest investment (“modest” is relative, of course). In some cases, the scammer disappears as soon as the investment is made. In some – such as Bernie Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme – the scammer keeps returning for more and more, promising ever greater and greater returns.

Report elder financial abuse to California’s DFPI (Department of Financial Protection and Innovation) or the California Attorney General’s Office. Elder financial abuse victims and victims’ families can also contact a skilled legal professional about options for recovering assets and pursuit of punitive damages.