AMERICANS ages 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population—increasing from 35 million in 2000 to more than 49 million in 2016. These aging Americans also are the target of one of the fastest growing crimes in the county—elder fraud.
According to the FBI, senior citizens make attractive targets for con artists because they are likely to have significant savings and excellent credit. Senior citizens also tend to be polite and trusting. Lonely adults often can be drawn in by a friendly scammer simply because they’re desperate to have someone to talk to. And frail adults can be easily intimidated by bullying, overbearing hustlers.
If they do become victims of a scam, older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they either don’t know whom to report it to or are too ashamed. Often, they’re concerned that family members will regard the incident as proof the senior no longer has the mental capacity to live alone or handle his own affairs. And, says the FBI, when seniors do report a scam, they can be poor witnesses. Fading eyesight, poor hearing and memory loss can affect the information and descriptions they provide to authorities.
On April 17, Comparitech.com, an organization dedicated to helping consumers make more informed tech purchasing decisions, released the report “The United States of Elder Fraud—How Prevalent is the Elder Financial Abuse in Each State?” The researchers collected data on elder fraud from all 50 states and used those figures to estimate the numbers of cases and amount of damages per state.
According to the report, more than 200,000 incidents of scams and swindles are reported to authorities every year. But researchers say that figure is just the tip of the iceberg. They estimate only that about 1 in every 23.5 incidents gets reported. Comparitech says the actual figure is closer to 5 million cases annually, resulting in more than $27 billion in losses. The average theft per crime is $2,415.
The report is disturbing—but what makes it even worse is that in the ranking of states with the highest rates of elder abuse, Virginia comes in at No. 5. Comparitech says that last year “more than 1 in 5 senior Virginians fell victims to elder fraud.” Larceny is the most popular method used to swindle our senior citizens (42 percent), followed by false pretenses (24 percent), and credit card/ATM fraud (11.8 percent). And in cases involving intimidation of the elderly, the majority of perpetrators were someone the victims knew.
How sad. Older Americans should be able to enjoy their retirement without worrying about hucksters attempting to steal their life savings. That apparently is no longer a luxury they can afford. Savvy seniors need to remain vigilant and on the lookout for potential scams. Family members and friends should remain alert as well and keep in touch with older relatives. And if a crime is suspected, call the police immediately.