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Why are Seniors So Vulnerable to Scammers?

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Scammer on phone with senior woman
Scammers prey on the elderly because they know seniors become less skeptical of strangers as they age.

The amount of money scammers steal from seniors is absolutely stunning, but what makes this worse is that victims are often too fearful and embarrassed to ask adult children for help, reports Barron’s in the article “Financial Scams Targeting the Elderly Are Rising. Advisors Offer Precautions.”

They’re afraid their children will take their victimization as a sign that they are no longer able to care for themselves and they’ll lose their independence. However, there are ways children can help their parents protect themselves with empathy and kindness.

Grown children should gently discuss the topic of their parents’ vulnerability. The conversation needs to be non-patronizing. Studies have shown that people become less skeptical and more impulsive as they age. The scammers know this, and they prey on the elderly for this reason. They also know where the money is: seniors lose an estimated $36.5 billion to scammers every year.

The scammers are also aware that open lines of communication between elderly parents and their children can cause a scam to fail. If a parent and child are in regular communication, the scammer’s plea that the grandson has been arrested and needs bail money won’t work. The grandparents need only send a text to learn that their grandson is alive and well on their college campus.

In one such case, the predatory scammer told the elderly couple not to notify their grandson’s parents so they could avoid a family scandal. The couple sent the scammers two large payments before realizing they were being duped. When they finally notified their son and the entire story came out, they agreed to accept his help in avoiding being scammed again.

Keeping the conversation as light as possible will make it easier for everyone. A simple “Hey Mom, did you hear about this scam?” is going to be a lot easier to take than a “Can you believe anyone was that stupid to fall for this?” approach. Add the question “What would you do if you got a call like that?” Once a conversation has started, it will be easier to transition into other concerns.

Remember that this generation was raised with different social rules. They were taught to be polite and may hesitate to cut off a fast talker. A script written on a pad kept by the phone may be helpful: “I don’t do business over the phone until I speak with my son. Goodbye.”

People who are now in their 70s and 80s grew up in a world without smartphones or computers. They may find basic technology a little confusing, even if they are fans of how easy it is to stay in touch with grandchildren. They often do recognize that they need help and are likely to defer to children or grandchildren when accepting help with technology issues.

One more generational issue to address: carrying a Social Security card in a wallet. These numbers are a gold mine for scammers, which is why the numbers no longer appear on Medicare cards. Ask where this card is kept, and make sure it’s in a secure place.

The best time to have these conversations is early, before a scam occurs and while aging parents are still sharp enough to fully understand the issues being addressed.

Reference: Barron’s (October 3, 2019) “Financial Scams Targeting the Elderly Are Rising. Advisors Offer Precautions.”

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