How to protect the senior citizens in your life from 'elderly scams'

How to protect the senior citizens in your life from 'elderly scams'
Posted at 11:19 PM, Jul 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-07 04:17:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are stolen from senior citizens in so-called "elderly scams".

The FBI is now asking children to reach out to their parents and grandparents to make sure they don't fall prey to the evil lurking on the phone and the internet.

"To lose it all because of greed and evil, it's heartbreaking," David Johnson, a special agent with the FBI, said.

Johnson has 20 years under his belt with the FBI. It's a job that keeps him and his department busy.

"The elderly, senior citizens tend to be very trusting, maybe a little less savvy when it comes to online issues. Anybody could be scammed. Certainly, the older population is more vulnerable but anyone who is in a vulnerable position can be scammed."

Johnson said there is a reason that those who are elderly tend to be targeted.

"They have, many of them, a nest egg. They have savings," Johnson explained.

"Romance Scams" alone cost senior citizens more than $432 million just last year. Part of that money came from a local senior citizen.

"She ultimately gave almost a million dollars of her savings over the course of several months to scammers. And the heartbreaking part of this is these cases are really, really hard to solve," Johnson said.

Unfortunately, senior citizens are put in a tricky position once they finally realize they have been scammed.

"They don't want to tell anybody because they feel shame in many cases," Johnson said.

Oftentimes, it's the senior who doesn't realize that they have helped the scammer even before contact is made.

"Especially those who have put a lot of information about themselves on the website, names of children, grandchildren, hobbies, things in which the scammers can exploit," Johnson said.

While romance scams are a big business, other cyber scams also aimed at senior citizens bring in millions of dollars.

"A pop-up may show up on your computer. It will say your computer is locked, contact this number for tech assistance," Johnson said.

That tech assistance will glean valuable information off the computer. The money that senior citizens send for "assistance" is often to criminal actors overseas.

"Once it turns into crypto[currency], it's very, very unlikely we will get it back," Johnson said.

There are also grandparent scams that target certain relationships senior citizens have.

"It's all fear-based so that the senior feels like they have to go out and do this right away. 'Your grandson has been arrested, you need to go right away and get some scratch-off gift cards or prepaid Visa cards'," Johnson said.

The pressure to help their loved ones often sends fear racing through the senior's minds. In reality, the solution is quite simple.

"If they receive such a call, to actually hand up and then call the person themselves," Johnson said.

Gail's mother is 92 and nearly every month, she politely reminds her mom about her phone.

"Just to not answer any calls from numbers that she doesn't recognize. If it's not a family member or a friend calling her, just to not answer the phone," Gail said.

With investment scams, the pressure is intense because the returns are supposed to be incredible. This kind of scheme is called "Pump and Dump".

"Bad guys buy a certain piece of the company, they pressure thousands of people to buy into it. Stock rises really high and then what they do is sell their piece of it, they make out like bandits and all their victims are left with worthless stock, penny stocks," Johnson said.

For the FBI, the quicker they learn of an investment scam, the quicker they can help the victim.

"Those are cases we can investigate, that we can likely solve, that we can recover money from," Johnson said.

All of these scams can lead to a worst-case scenario.

"Life savings gone and nothing sadder than an older person having to go back to work after being retired for so many years because they lost all their money," Johnson said.

However, there are ways that your loved ones can be protected.

"So we want the children, the next generation and the subsequent generation to check in from time to time on grandma, grandpa and just do a computer check, do a bank account check," Johnson said.

He also has tips for those who work at a bank or sell pre-paid gift cards.

"Please do your best when you see a senior who looks to be in distress, that is buying stacks of pre-paid gift cards or is drawing thousands and thousands of dollars from their bank account in case, please do your best to try to stop them," Johnson said.

If you are a senior citizen or a family member of a senior citizen and you believe a scam is taking place, contact your local law enforcement agency immediately or you can go to the FBI's website to fill out the form.