Elder Financial Fraud

By Mark L., Director of Intelligence

January 9, 2019

For most of us, receiving a phone call or email advising we had just won the lottery likely would be followed by a quick hang-up, deletion, or not-too-subtle reply of “bug off”.  The attempted scam would be obvious, and we would move on with our daily lives without any further thought of missing out on this “pot of gold”.  This scheme, however, increasingly targets vulnerable members of the elderly population who fail to recognize it for what it is: a fraud.  The result for elders who fall prey to the lottery pitchmen and pitchwomen is often dire and devastating.

During my 26 years as a Special Agent with the FBI, I fielded numerous calls from elderly victims who either (1) had questions regarding whether a phone call/email they received promising riches was legitimate, or (2) to advise they had been scammed and lost money.  In one instance, an elderly couple lost more than $300,000 to a group of scammers over several months.

In December 2018, Peter Anthony Chin, Jr. pleaded guilty to a fraud which targeted elderly individuals nationwide in a bogus advance fee Jamaican lottery scheme.  The victims were informed by phone, email, and mail they had won millions of dollars in a lottery.  The catch? They had to pay the taxes on their purported winnings before the funds could be released.  This scheme cost the victims more than $1.4 million and ran from 2012 to 2017.  In one instance, a single victim lost more than $90,000.

This is merely a recent example of elder financial abuse, which by one account is a nationwide $37 billion problem affecting 5 million seniors annually.  Fraudsters target the elderly for a variety of reasons including, (1) seniors tend to have more money than younger people; (2) many are too embarrassed to go to authorities to report they have been scammed; (3) many have suffered a decline in mental acuity; and (4) many experience challenges when it comes to technology.  Even though the loss amount associated with this type of fraud is staggering, it generally is believed the amount is severely under-reported.

The financial loss for seniors can be life-changing, not only monetarily, but psychologically and medically as well.  Published reports document mental and physical declines for elder victims of financial scams, and research suggests an increase in death rates for these victims.

All things being equal, most of us will eventually join the “golden years” society.  As such, it would be good practice for each one of us to be on the lookout for signs of possible elder financial abuse involving our loved ones.  Such signs might include, among others, (1) unexplained large bank withdrawals or transfers; (2) unexplained large ATM withdrawals; or (3) a lack of financial understanding.   The key is to prevent elder financial abuse before it occurs.  Once the money is gone, the prospect of seeing it again is nothing more than a dream.

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