Each year, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to financial fraud or confidence schemes. Criminals gain their targets’ trust and might communicate directly via computer, phone, and mail. Seniors are targeted because they tend to be trusting and polite. They also usually have financial savings, own a home, and have good credit — all of which make them attractive to scammers.

Additionally, seniors might be less inclined to report fraud because they are not sure or might be too embarrassed to do so. They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their financial affairs. Elder fraud is a growing problem with the elderly population increasing and seniors racking up more than $3 billion in financial losses annually.

Common elder fraud schemes

Romance scam: Criminals pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites to capitalize on their elderly victims’ desire to find companions. These imposters might convince their targets that they have common interests, run in similar social circles or have compatible values and life goals in an effort to forge an emotional connection. Once this connection has been established, the scammers might either:

Claim they need money urgently to cover an emergency, deal with a family tragedy, take advantage of a business opportunity, recover from theft or a stolen identity or to travel to finally meet in person; or convince their victim to open a new bank account, wire stolen funds to it, and then have the victim forward those funds to another account, thereby involving their victim in bank fraud.

Charity scams

During times of crisis, scammers often try to take advantage of the goodwill and generosity of others by creating sham charitable organizations and pocketing any donations. Before donating, determine whether an organization is registered to solicit in Florida at FDACS.gov and check its reviews on CharityNavigator.org.

Unsolicited calls, texts, and emails

The pandemic has given rise to new scams received via unsolicited messages. Upon receipt of a robocall, hang up. Ignore recordings that say that pressing a button will connect the call recipient to an operator or will remove the recipient from the robocall list. Pressing a button on the phone will likely lead to more robocalls. Do not provide personal or financial information to anyone making unsolicited contact. Do not click links in unsolicited text messages or emails, as doing so might download malware onto the device.

Stimulus payments and nursing homes: The Attorney General’s Office received reports that nursing homes and assisted living facilities were seizing Economic Impact Payments of residents, particularly those receiving care through Medicaid. These payments are classified as tax credits, not as a federal benefit, and are allocated to the individual payees named on the checks, not the facilities caring for them. Anyone who encounters a stimulus payment scam, or any other type of COVID-19 fraud, should contact the Florida Attorney General’s Office at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

Tech support scam: Criminals pose as technical support representatives and offer to fix non-existent computer issues. The scammers then gain remote access to victims’ devices and sensitive information.

Grandparent scam: Criminals pose as a relative — usually a child or grandchild — claiming to be in immediate financial need. Even if you think you have verified the story, pause for a moment before thinking about sending money. Once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone.

Government impersonation scam: Criminals pose as government employees and threaten to arrest or prosecute victims unless they agree to provide funds or other payments. Government agencies won’t call, email, or text you and ask for money or personal information. Only a scammer will do that.

Sweepstakes/charity/lottery scam: Criminals claim to work for legitimate charitable organizations to gain victims’ trust. Or they claim their targets have won a foreign lottery or sweepstake, which they can collect for a fee. If someone says you have to pay to claim a prize, it is likely a scam.

Home repair scam: Criminals appear in person and charge homeowners in advance for home improvement services that they never provide. Instead of deciding to do business with someone who knocks on your door, get at least three estimates in writing.

Protect yourself: Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.

Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door services offers.

Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks or wire information to unverified people or businesses.

Disconnect from the internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message or locked screen. Perpetrators regularly use pop-ups to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up.

Take precautions to protect your identity if a criminal gains access to your device or account. Immediately contact your financial institutions to monitor your accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.

How to report

Report suspected fraudulent activity to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office or your local law enforcement agency if you live within a municipality.

Reporting is vital. Only one-third of people who are victims report them. Reporting fraud keeps scammers from making someone else a victim.