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Crimes Against the Elderly: Email Scams and Telemarketing Fraud

Crimes Against the Elderly: Email Scams and Telemarketing Fraud

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

While many scams are so poorly executed that it can be laughable to hear the voicemail or see the mistake-ridden email, this is an evolving trend. Many scams are becoming so sophisticated that they look, sound, and feel exactly like the company you believe you are dealing with. Even tech-savvy people can fall for these scams. Scammers have been known to supply badge numbers, connect you to speak to their “managers,” threaten jail time if you do not cooperate, and more.

It is important to note there are psychological reasons why scams work. Often, it is because we want them to be true. From winning a prize to trying to avoid a crime they are “accused” of, many people will follow orders if they believe it helps themselves. Unfortunately, these scams can be tailored to target vulnerable people scammers see as “easy targets.”

This article will review why the elderly are targets, what scams look like, the impact of scams, warning signs to watch for, laws about scams, and how to report a scam.

Why Scammers Target Seniors

Scammers are often trained to specifically target the elderly because older adults can be:

  • Unfamiliar with technology or the fact these scams exist
  • Lonely (living alone/little contact with others)
  • Financially sound, with accounts that house their life savings
  • Vulnerable, with undiagnosed or progressively worsening physical or mental ailments

The FBI keeps a close eye on current scams and offers a realistic look at why scams often target seniors. It may fall on you to keep an eye on your elderly relatives or friends to watch for any phone or email scams targeting their finances or wellbeing.

What Telemarketing and Email Scams Look Like

Whether by email or phone, scams are designed to scare or entice someone into taking fast action. Scammers may ask seniors for credit card numbers, to send money in the mail, or to hand over personal information (which can lead to identity fraud). Some even create a fake relationship before asking for money. The Justice Department keeps an updated list of the most common scams, including:

  • Tech support or IT scams
  • Drug smuggling scams
  • Dating site or romance scams
  • Lottery or sweepstakes scams
  • IRS and tax scams

If you have not seen or heard of these scams, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provides real examples of what telemarketers may say to convince someone to hand over information — statements like “this deal won’t last” or “your finances are at risk” should set off red flags when you hear them. If the scam is via email, you should pay close attention to the language used. For example, there may be typos, strangely worded sentences, or urgent statements that seem out of place.

A good rule of thumb is to be extra careful if a phone call or email asks for money — these are almost always scams.

What Is the Worst That Can Happen?

Unfortunately, scams can end up devastating people’s finances or stealing their benefits. There are cases of life savings being stolen, property and possessions being signed away to strangers, and even pharmaceutical or telemarketing medical scams that take advantage of Medicare benefits. These scams are also endlessly creative — some are even designed to take small amounts from unsuspecting people in the hopes no one will notice.

Warning Signs for Family Members

If your parent, grandparent, or loved one mentions anything that sounds like a scam, pay attention. It can be as simple as them saying a call or email confused them, or someone asked for money, or even mentioning a new friend or caretaker that you do not know. Some people will flat-out tell you they are excited about a prize they won, a person they helped, or their new relationship.

Things can become complicated when your loved one truly believes the scam is real or is becoming forgetful about these scams happening, which can lead to difficult conversations or arguments when you tell them to stop.

If you have access to credit cards or accounts, it may be a good idea to set up fraud or high-spending alerts to help you keep track. Monitoring vulnerable adults’ calls or emails can help stop some scams in their tracks. Ultimately, seeking a Power of Attorney is the only way to prevent someone from sending money or supplying private information. These are not always easy discussions to have, but they may be vital.

The Law Behind Elder Scams

We have legal protection from scams under U.S. laws and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations:

U.S. Code – Unannotated Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure

Section 1341 – Legal protection from frauds and swindles

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

An organization that enforces the U.S. laws in cooperation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the FBI.

How to Report a Scam

If you suspect your loved one has opened or responded to a phone or email scam, there may not be a need for further steps. In many cases, you can block the email or phone number and the contact will cease.

However, if your loved one gives out personal information, such as credit card numbers or Social Security numbers, you may want to work with the credit card companies or banks to stop any financial or identity theft. This interactive resource from the Department of Justice can help determine the threat level of the scam and how you should report the incident.

After these urgent protections are in place, you may want to contact an elder law attorney to represent your loved one’s rights. Your attorney can work toward legal protection from identity theft or ensure financial losses are pursued in court.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified elder law attorney to help you and loved ones plan care and address problems.

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