Elder fraud takes place an estimated 5 million times a year in the U.S., with losses possibly up to $27.4 billion, a new report says.
Those are estimates, to be sure. Only about 200,000 cases of elder fraud are reported every year. Among the reasons: Victims may be unaware they’ve been defrauded or perhaps too embarrassed to admit it.
Comparitech, a tech website focused on protecting consumers, compiled the report. It used 2017 and 2018 data collected from 40 states, making projections for the remaining 10 states from that data.
Comparitech estimates that the true rate of elder fraud is higher than reported. Noting a study that placed reporting as low as 1 in 23.5 incidents, the website estimates that as many as 1 in 10 seniors were victims in the past year. Comparitech adds:
“Given the exponential rise of phone scams over the past few years, we surmise that the ratio of unreported to reported cases could well be much higher.”
Scammers’ frequent targets are the assets of older Americans:
- Debit cards (32.9%)
- Credit cards (11.6%)
- Bank deposit accounts (10%)
The study isn’t definitive, Comparitech says. Since elder fraud reporting varies widely by state, it’s hard to pin it down with precision, the study’s detailed “methodology” section explains. The study’s aim is to show the need for more research.
These states, listed here from bad to worse, have the most severe problems, according to Comparitech:
- Elder fraud cases reported: 9,920
- Elder fraud rate: 0.71%
- Estimated true rate: 16.58%
9. New Hampshire
- Elder fraud cases reported: 1,731
- Elder fraud rate: 0.73%
- Estimated true rate: 17.21%
- Elder fraud cases reported: 1,789
- Elder fraud rate: 0.75%
- Estimated true rate: 17.51%
7. North Dakota
- Elder fraud cases reported: 896
- Elder fraud rate: 0.79%
- Estimated true rate: 18.68%
- Elder fraud cases reported: 1,676
- Elder fraud rate: 0.88%
- Estimated true rate: 20.71%
- Elder fraud cases reported: 11,267
- Elder fraud rate: 0.89%
- Estimated true rate: 20.82%
4. South Dakota
- Elder fraud cases reported: 1,795
- Elder fraud rate: 0.90%
- Estimated true rate: 21.20%
- Elder fraud cases reported: 9,628
- Elder fraud rate: 0.90%
- Estimated true rate: 21.14%
- Elder fraud cases reported: 14,884
- Elder fraud rate: 1.22%
- Estimated true rate: 28.79%
- Elder fraud cases reported: 9,474
- Elder fraud rate: 1.49%
- Estimated true rate: 35.12%
Keeping seniors safe
Follow these tips to protect yourself, an older relative or a friend:
Monitor your credit. Get your three free credit reports every year and monitor them for irregularities.
Secure your mail. Use these tactics:
- Opt out of solicitations by joining the Direct Marketing Association’s mail preference service.
- Shred personal mail, especially bank statements, credit card statements and receipts.
- Shred credit cards before tossing them in the trash.
Opt out of unsolicited credit card and insurance offers. We detail how to tell credit reporting agencies not to share your data for these purposes in “How to Stop Unsolicited Credit Card Offers for Good.”
Consider getting help with your finances. If bill-paying has become difficult, allow a trusted relative or friend to share your checking account. And then, further protect yourself by keeping only the minimum amount of money in the account. Transfer just enough money into the account each month to pay your bills.
Know your bankers. Get to know tellers and officers at your bank or credit union. Ask them how they can inform you if something is amiss. The number of senior-related “suspicious activity reports” filed by financial institutions quadrupled between 2013 and 2017, says a February 2019 report from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Join the “Do Not Call” list. Sign up at the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry to stop telemarketing calls. Or call 888-382-1222.
Take over a family member’s finances. In serious cases, you might need to file for guardianship or conservatorship and be responsible for handling a loved one’s money. Nolo explains how these options work.
Block fraudsters. The Federal Trade Commission explains several ways to block fraudsters and other unwanted calls, including call-blocking devices, a mobile app, your smartphone’s existing features, a cloud-based service or a service that your carrier provides.
Go further. Learn more from these sources:
- The AARP scams and fraud page.
- The National Council on Aging’s 8 Tips for How Seniors Can Protect Themselves From Money Scams.
- Money Smart for Older Adults Resource Guide, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection’s free downloadable book (also in Spanish).
- Publications from The National Center on Elder Abuse for seniors and their families on financial abuse and exploitation.
Have you or your family experienced elder fraud? Share your knowledge in a comment below or on our Facebook page.