Old Scams – New Technology Used as Seniors Fall Victim to Fraud

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 10, 2014

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Senior citizens are continuing to fall prey to scams at an alarming rate. As the Internet and trends toward globalization continue to solidify, con artists, both domestic and foreign, have taken to the phone and the Internet in an attempt to defraud seniors.

Use of Landlines to Target Seniors

Seniors Fall Victim to FraudSenior citizens, the last bastion of landline technology, fall prey to numerous phone scams. Whether threatened with imprisonment due to failure to report for jury duty or shaken down for “bail money” from an imprisoned “grandchild” abroad, seniors are easy targets for predators seeking to separate people from their hard-earned savings. While there are no specific numbers regarding how many seniors have fallen victim to scam artists, the Federal Trade Commission estimates that over 25 million citizens fell victim to fraud in 2011. Part of the problem is that seniors are one of the few demographics that still rely heavily on land telephone lines.

Landline numbers, unlike cell numbers, are readily available for purchase through commercial marketing firms. The AARP Foundations director of consumer fraud programs, Amy Nofziger, provides counseling to seniors who have been victimized by phone scams. Nofziger has pointed out that scam artists can legitimately purchase lists of telephone numbers with parameters such as “women under 60, living alone.”

Seniors Particularly Vulnerable

Seniors, often experiencing cognitive loss, fall victim to numerous scams. Scam artists use shaming tactics, threats or attempt to confuse seniors before separating them from their money. Scams often go unreported because seniors are embarrassed that they’ve been victimized.

The Federal Trade Commission, through its Consumer Sentinel Network, provides law enforcement with a database and other useful tools to aid in tracking down scammers, but the perpetrators are often based in foreign companies, and identifying responsible parties can be difficult at best.

Imposter Fraud

State Attorneys General, too, are contributing to the efforts combating fraud against seniors. Impostor fraud—with scammers posing as government agents, relatives or others—was the most prevalent type of fraud in several states in the last year, including Indiana and West Virginia. Seniors are one of the largest groups falling victim to impostor fraud. “The scammers target everybody, but they’re more likely to get older people to respond because they answer the phone and they are not used to being tricked,” said Indiana Attorney General director of consumer protection Abigail Kuzma, in a recent New York Times article.

Education and reporting are the keys to helping seniors avoid fraudulent scams. Organizations such as the AARP as well as federal and state governments are doing what they can, but as technology evolves, the same old scams are perpetrated in new—and frightening—ways.

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