The Fraud Examiner

Fraud Against the Elderly – Prevention Starts With Awareness

By Suzette Stevenson, CFE

Manager of Compliance and Ethics, Giant Food, LLC

A person can spend a lifetime saving for their retirement and then lose it all in a matter of months, weeks, days or even minutes. Now, more than ever, fraud is being reported at an alarming rate and the elderly are among the highest identified victims. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) 2020 Internet Crime Report, “In 2020, the IC3 received 105,301 complaints from victims over the age of 60 with total losses in excess of $966 million.” In my career as an anti-fraud professional, it has been my experience that in order to protect older adults from becoming victims of fraud, it is helpful for them to know and understand the types of schemes targeting them before they can become victims.

Grandparent scams

Preying on a person’s emotions and vulnerability is often what enables fraudsters to successfully execute a scam — especially fraud schemes targeting older adults. A common scam starts when a fraudster calls an older victim with an urgent plea such as, “Grandpa, I really need your help right now!” or “Grandma, I’ve been kidnapped!” An unsuspecting older person,  or even an unaware person,  will instantly panic and become concerned. Their first instinct is often to help the caller, who they think is their grandchild, and ask questions later.

When the victim reacts emotionally instead of logically to this type of call, the fraudster quickly gives them instructions on how to help their “grandchild” — which is usually to send money as ransom. The victim is coached into sending money through money transfer services, like Western Union or Money Gram. The amount may initially be a few hundred dollars, but that could be just the beginning; larger amounts of money are typically requested once the fraudster sees their scam has succeeded. The fear and care for a loved one is often overwhelming, and once the funds are sent, they are gone with little to no way to recover them.

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