The FBI just reported that elder financial fraud losses rose by 84% in a single year in 2022. Driving that was a 350% jump in cryptocurrency investment losses, with more than 10,000 people over 60 reporting losses totaling more than $1 billion.
Romance scams came in second at more than $400 million. Meanwhile, those notorious “Grandma, I’m in jail, send money” scams netted “only” a reported $3.8 million.
These stats are from the annual Elder Fraud Report recently released by the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. “Only” is in quotation marks because, well, it’s like “minor” surgery. It’s not so minor when it happens to you or an older loved one. (And these are just the incidents that were reported. The true number may be much higher.)
So, how can you help ensure that your retirement funds, or those of an aging parent, don’t get funneled into the pockets of cold-hearted tricksters using scams old and new?
The old “I’m in trouble, send money” ploy may be the easiest to thwart. Verification is simple: A quick call to your grandchild or their parents can confirm the authenticity (or lack thereof) of such distress calls.
Here are a few thoughts about the other two most expensive problem areas.
Don’t let a Cupid con break your heart — or wallet
The raw numbers point to the potential for fraudsters posing as potential partners to lonely retirement-age singles. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, 49% of women over age 65 in the U.S. are single, compared with 21% of men in that age group.
Romance scams can be straightforward, blunt, and cunning. They start innocently enough online, through social media or dating sites. Scammers build trust over weeks or months before asking for money, often for an “emergency” or a supposed trip to meet in person.
Red flags include refusing to meet in person, demanding the relationship be kept secret, and such evasions as claiming to be overseas or in the military.
The best defense against this scam is a healthy dose of skepticism. Always verify a potential suitor’s identity. A simple image search can reveal if that charming profile picture is actually from a model’s portfolio.
And never, under any circumstances, should money, gifts, or personal financial details be sent to someone you’ve never met in person. If a new love interest asks for financial help, money, gift cards, or your banking info, stop communication immediately.
Protect your nest egg from crypto criminals
Fortunes have been made and lost in perfectly legitimate cryptocurrency trading, just as in the traditional stock market and even in buying bullion over the years. Scamming vulnerable older folks with it is just the latest iteration of an old problem.
Cryptocurrency investment scams frequently begin with a too-good-to-be-true promotion on social media, a pop-up ad, or even a call from a “financial advisor.” After dangling promises of insider tips, special deals, and quick profits, they take the money and run.
What to do? Like any investment, only stake what you can afford to lose. And don’t even do that until you thoroughly research that investment and advisor first, or work with someone you trust to do that for you. The siren song of quick profits can obscure the danger of such things as, for instance, fraudulent cryptocurrency launches.
If you do decide to invest in crypto, be sure to use a reputable exchange and trade in established cryptocurrencies. And remember, as in all things investment, diversify. Don’t put all your eggs (or coins) in one basket.
Stay alert and protect vulnerable loved ones
The elderly are more than their material assets. They’re storehouses of experience and wisdom. But with the pace of technological advancement, there are sometimes gaps in understanding that malicious players can exploit.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Channel your inner skeptic. If an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
The best defense? Staying informed and vigilant, and encouraging open conversations about money matters with family. After all, your golden years shouldn’t be tarnished by scams that rob your nest egg.