What Is Elder Fraud?

February 7, 2023 3 min

People over the age of 60 are a common target for financial exploitation. Fraudsters may impersonate family members, government employees, tech support professionals and others to steal money and information from seniors. Elder fraud occurs when someone misuses or takes money belonging to a senior for their own personal benefit.

Millions of older Americans fall victim to many different types of financial fraud or confidence schemes each year. In fact, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reports that victims over the age of 60 lost an average of more than $18,000 in 2021. Thousands of elderly victims lost more than $100,000 that year.

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Fraudsters may impersonate family members, government employees, tech support professionals and others to steal money and information from seniors.”

How to spot elder fraud

If you care for an older loved one, watch for these warning signs of elder fraud:

  • Large, frequent or unexplained withdrawals from accounts.
  • ATM withdrawals that are out-of-character, such as by an older person who has never used a debit card before.
  • Transfers between accounts that can’t be explained.
  • Withdrawals from a previously inactive account.
  • Opening of new joint accounts.
  • Sudden appearance of credit card balances, or new credit cards in the senior’s name.
  • New “best friends” who want to accompany the person to their credit union or bank.
  • Closing CDs, share certificates or other savings accounts without regard to penalties.
  • Unusual attempts to wire large sums of money.
  • The appearance of a new Power of Attorney document that the elder does not understand.

Common elder fraud schemes

A number of popular scams rely on seniors as their targets.

  • Romance scam: Fraudsters pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites.
  • Tech support scam: Fraudsters pose as customer support to “help” with non-existent tech issues, such as computer viruses or hacked accounts. The fraudsters’ real intent is identity theft and financial crimes.
  • Grandparent scam: Fraudsters pose as a relative, usually a child or grandchild, claiming to be in immediate financial need. Learn more about grandparent scams.
  • Government impersonation scam: A fraudster claims to be a government employee and threatens to arrest or prosecute a victim unless they agree to pay money allegedly owed to the government.
  • Sweepstakes scam: Fraudsters claim the victim has won a sweepstakes or lottery but must pay fees and taxes to claim the money.
  • Investment scam: Criminals offer fraudulent financial opportunities that can result in the theft or misappropriation of funds.
  • Charity scam: Fraudsters claim to work for a charitable organization to obtain donations.
  • Family/caregiver abuse: Perpetrators are relatives or acquaintances of the elderly victims and take advantage of them, which may include inappropriately accessing their money.
  • Online shopping scam: A victim never receives an item that was purchased online, or the item isn’t as described. These products are often advertised on social media to seniors.

What to do if you or someone you know is a victim of elder fraud

If you or someone you know may be a victim of elder fraud:

  • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov
  • In California, contact your local county Adult Protective Services office or call 833.401.0832
  • Contact your local law enforcement, such as your local police department’s non-emergency line
  • Contact the senior’s bank or credit union to request an account review — You can reach Patelco at 800.358.8228

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