Scammers targeting seniors for financial fraud

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They are the most vulnerable among us. Now, according to authorities, seniors increasingly are the targets of abuse and financial fraud. 

“We know elder abuse affects one in ten older adults,” says Amanda Vickstrom, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Elder Justice Center. “We have a population where people are being exploited, abused by loved ones, family members, caregivers, and strangers.”

The Federal Trade Commission says nationwide it had received 62,000 senior fraud complaints in 2018, a total of $818 million in losses

That number jumped to 390,000 complaints about social security imposter fraud alone, triggering $153 million in losses. 

“Incidents of elder fraud are skyrocketing,” declares Associate Deputy Attorney General Antoinette Bacon. “These scammer folks are ruthless. They scare seniors. They harass them. They frighten them. They do anything they can to pressure them into paying money.”

But those tracking crimes against seniors are learning a hard truth; that in seven of 10 elder abuse or fraud cases, a family member is taking advantage of an older relative, and the victims in those cases are often reluctant to press charges against someone they know and love. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” Vickstrom says. “No one wants to think that someone could hurt someone they know, that they know or love, or take advantage of someone they love.”

The losses are staggering.

$3 billion a year, according to authorities, outright stolen or defrauded from seniors nationwide. 

Federal and state prosecutors, meeting in Minneapolis for an elder abuse and financial fraud summit, say they are joining forces, sharing data and resources, to combat the problem. 

“The trauma of elder abuse affects our seniors financially, emotionally, and physically,” says US Attorney Erica MacDonald. “Individuals who suffer from elder abuse are three times more likely to suffer from premature death, and it can cause unnecessary suffering, illness, and injury.”

It’s not just family. Investigators say international scammers are also reaching out to seniors using the internet. Emailing about a tech problem, for example, or that a family member needs emergency money. 

“We were talking about our grandmother, who really likes to write checks to not-for-profits, and would be overdrawn on their account,” says Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine Sullivan. “It would amaze me. One $25 check and 600 pieces of mail would come in over the next thirty days.”

Bacon says the US Justice Department has launched a "Transnational Elder Strike Force," a team of analysts, agents, and prosecutors who track down and investigate overseas scammers. 

She says the group has succeeded in winning civil injunctions in court against two of the largest robocallers in the US. 

She says in one case, 720 million fraudulent robocalls went out during a three-week period.

The North Star state isn’t immune to the problem.  

“In a one week period, during that time, Minnesota received two-million robocalls, just through these gateway carriers,” Bacon says. 

Prosecutors agree these elder abuse and fraud instances will likely increase even more, with an aging population, and new advances in technology.

Investigators say seniors are often reluctant to ask for help after they’ve been scammed, especially by a family member. 

“We have isolation. People are lonely,” Bacon says. “Technology, the robocalls are able to come in faster and faster into those homes,” she adds.

The FBI has an internet crime complaint center, where anyone can file information about a case.