Millions of California senior citizens have worked their entire lives and saved money to enjoy the retirement they deserve. Unfortunately, the elderly lose as much as $35 billion annually to scams, and that number is growing. Educating seniors about possible scams can help, but many seniors suffer from cognitive decline, so family members are their first line of defense against fraud.  

It’s a tricky problem for the authorities to solve because fraud victims do not always report the issue to the police. They are often ashamed that they were duped, and family members may feel they did not do a good enough job protecting them. But, there are actions you can take to help protect an elderly relative from scams.

Recognize Common Scams

Although anyone can become a fraud victim, the elderly are often considered easy marks. Some segments of the population are at exceptionally high risk for fraud and they are targeted by scammers. For example, seniors requiring memory care in Fresno, CA, represent a particularly high-risk population.

According to the publication Brain and Life, the average victim is a single female living alone. That’s a vast group considering that nearly half of women 75 or over live by themselves. 

Before you can protect seniors, it’s essential to become familiar with common scams. These include:  

  • Unsolicited calls:  Strangers call asking for personal information. If a caller’s legitimacy is in doubt, it’s crucial to get their contact information, hang up, and call the number directly to ensure they are legitimate.
  • Requests for money:  Scammers call or email, requesting that seniors wire money to receive a prize, pay a fee, or make a purchase. 
  • Government agency calls:  Agencies like Social Security, the IRS, and Medicare do not call or email seniors. They only communicate via USPS, only call on request, and never request money.  
  • Limited time offers:  Emails, texts, and calls offer the chance to take advantage of a money-making scheme that’s only available for a short time. 
  • Emergency calls from grandchildren:  Some scammers call seniors, pretending to be their grandchildren, and ask that money be wired to them. The best defense is to ask callers personal questions only grandchildren could answer. 
  • High-risk, low-investment offers:  Callers offer the elderly a chance to make a lot of money with little risk. These calls are always fraudulent. 
  • Invitations to free lunches:  Free lunch offers are invitations to seminars designed to sell unsuitable investments. Seniors should ignore the invitations. 

Discuss Fraud with Seniors

Whether elderly relatives live alone or in senior living communities, they can become fraud victims. Even mentally sharp people can become victims if they are unaware of how scams work. Educating the elderly about fraud helps put them in charge of protecting themselves and reduces their chances of being victimized.  

Per AARP, it’s not enough to tell seniors to ignore a call or letter; you need to explain why. If parents are involved in a scam like a risky investment, consider reverse psychology. Request information about how you can get involved. According to psychologists, this is effective because parents don’t want their children to lose money. If they hesitate to get you involved, it’s a chance to ask why they got involved and then discuss the issue.  

Reduce Junk Mail and Spam Calls

The elderly who live alone are especially vulnerable to email and spam call fraud, but even those living in a senior community can become victims. Blocking spam calls and reducing junk mail helps safeguard against scams. 

Many wireless carriers offer a free spam-blocking service, and seniors with landlines may be able to add blocks by dialing *77. Seniors can also install spam-blocking apps. 

You can help the elderly reduce a great deal of junk mail by registering at DMAchoice.org, which makes it simple to opt out of junk mail. It doesn’t stop all mail solicitations, but you can advise seniors not to trust any junk mail offers. 

Maintain Regular Contact

One of the simplest ways to protect seniors from fraud is to stay in touch with them. Check on your older adults as often as possible. It’s a chance to evaluate their financial situation regularly and review emails, financial transactions, and bills. Routine visits let you know what’s normal versus suspicious activities. If it’s impossible to see them often in person, consider hiring an aide or caregiver to drop by and provide updates. 

Keep in mind that isolation is a significant risk factor for all types of elder abuse. Ensure that an aging or a vulnerable family member has frequent contact with people. Consider helping them enroll in community social groups or adult-care programs. 

The elderly are at risk of becoming fraud victims, especially since many live alone and millions suffer from cognitive decline. You can help them avoid becoming victims by discussing fraud schemes with them, minimizing unsolicited calls and emails, and maintaining regular contact.