Scams Targeting the Elderly on the Rise

People who are 65 and older are the fastest growing demographic in the United States and are also the most vulnerable to financial scams. The increase in the population of the elderly has led to an unintended consequence, as the number of cases involving elder abuse and scams has dramatically increased across the country. These scammers often times present themselves as legitimate businessmen, such as lenders and financial representatives and these scams can have devastating consequences for the victims.

In one particular case in Virginia, an elderly woman lost her home that she had lived in for more than 30 years. Barbara Barkley of Chesapeake, Virginia fell victim to a nationwide scam that stole more than $11 million from homeowners seeking mortgages. The scammers sent mail and posted online advertisements about new mortgage modifications under the Obama administration and tricked people into paying for “new” mortgages for their homes.

Barkley, along with thousands of other victims across the country, began paying monthly installments to this supposed mortgage, but in reality, the scammers simply pocketed the money they received. Eventually, Barkley lost her home due to foreclosure, as she had not been paying off her actual mortgage payments and was unable to recover the money that she had sent to the scammers.

Barkley’s case is tragic, but unfortunately, she is one of the thousands across the country who fall victim to scammers. Elderly people are the most vulnerable to scammers, with common diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia rendering their ability to make sound judgments when approached by potential abusers.

Annually, $6.2 billion is lost due to elder abuse in the United States and over 90% of these incidents occur in the home. The most common scams that target the elderly happen over the phone or by mail; however, scammers may also approach potential victims at their residence. In addition to mortgage and loan scams, abusers and solicitors may call advertising supposed lotteries or sweepstakes, claiming that they have won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, intending to obtain financial information of the victim or to solicit a fake tax payment on the “winnings”. Many scammers attempt to establish trust with the victims or convincingly advertise false products in order to take advantage of their interest and trust.

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from a scammer is to never reveal your bank account information or any other sensitive pieces of information to someone who calls on the phone. It is also important that you never allow a stranger to come into your home and collect information about you or your assets.