Why Do Swindlers Target Seniors?

            If you are a senior, you have undoubtedly been warned about financial scams. Fraud against the elderly has become one of the top crimes in the U.S.  Why are senior scams so widespread?

            The foremost reason is the belief that seniors have a lot of money.  You may have developed stores over a lifetimes, like the equity in a home or retirement savings.  Almost a third of elders, especially single ones, live entirely on social security income, but others have large savings accounts, financial investments, or significant retirement incomes.  As a group, people over 65 have greater wealth than their younger counterparts, and the scammers want some of it.

            There have always been shysters and con-men, but it has never been so easy for them to find victims.  Automated telephone dialers, group e-mail, and internet use make it possible for criminals to target large numbers of people in a short amount of time. Private data collected by internet companies, the federal government, and hackers make internet users vulnerable to those who want to know their age, address, or marital status.  Many personal facts are accessible with simple, free internet searches.  Because of this mass market approach to fraud, seniors are easier to identify and target.

            Another reason for senior scams is that advanced aged can make people more susceptible to false promises. Neurological changes, hearing loss, and vision loss can place seniors at a disadvantage.  These obstacles slow your reaction times and make it harder to pick up the clues that you are being conned.  This is especially true when dealing with complicated bureaucracies and financial processes.  Medicare, supplemental health insurance, “part D”, are all incredibly convoluted systems, making it hard to know whether a request for information is legitimate. Recent research even suggests that the brain area involved in doubt and skepticism begins to decline at about age 60. This would perhaps explain why some highly intelligent and sophisticated elders succumb to scams. 

            A key way to prevent scams is to never give out personal information over the phone or on the internet. Private details like your social security number, bank or credit information, or date of birth should rarely, if ever, be provided over the phone or in an email. Elders are far more likely to share those facts on the phone than younger adults. In some cases, loneliness or isolation can make an elder vulnerable to a “nice caller”, but it is just as likely that busy, active seniors provide private information on the run. It may seem more convenient just to answer the caller who claims to be with your bank, or Medicare, but it places you at real risk of  “identity theft”.

            In my next few blogs, I’ll tell you some of the ways to safeguard your financial health, and what experts say about the most prevalent scams.