Elder Scams Come of Age With Recent Technology

A recent online article from the Association of Health Care Journalists detailed problems associated with common scams and noted increased levels of sophistication employed by the scammers. While it recognized that “Elder scams are nothing new… It also went on to state ‘But artificial intelligence has made them elder scams so sophisticated that it’s increasingly more challenging to differentiate fraud from reality. It doesn’t matter how educated and enlightened people think they are. Scammers don’t target your brain, experts say, but your emotions…” The article, “Elder Scams Can Have Real-World Health Effects. Will AI Make It Worse?” https://healthjournalism.org/blog/2024/02/elder-scams-can-have-real-world-health-effects-will-ai-make-it-worse/ did not stop at diagnosing the problem but went on to describe the effects of the more common schemes and how to protect against them.

First, though, to demonstrate the extent of the problem the article noted that the AARP Fraud Watch Network helpline received close to 100,000 calls in 2023, not all from seniors. Again, according to the article, the National Council on Aging reported in 2022 alone some 88,000 people 60 and older were “taken in by some type of fraud or scam, to the tune of $3.1 billion…”

What are some of the most common scams? Here are examples.

  • The Grandparent Scam. The older person would receive a phone call from someone claiming to be a family member, often a grandchild but it could be another claiming to be calling on his/her behalf. Funds must be wired or the recipient must sent a prepaid gift card to take care of an immediate problem – often one related to law enforcement. Along these lines it might be noted that one popular television program, Sixty Minutes on CBS, graphically demonstrated this technique and the use of AI to accomplish the goal. Voices can be mimicked to sound very much like the voice of the alleged caller.
  • The Romance Scam. This scam targets people looking for romantic partners/companionship through dating websites or social media. After gaining trust over time the scammer tells a false story requesting money, gifts or access to bank accounts or credit card information. According to the article as stated by the Federal Trade Commission nearly 70,000 people reported a romance scam in 2022 with losses reaching $1.3 billion.
  • Government Impersonation Scam. The scammers claim that the IRS, Social Security Administration or other government agency will be taking enforcement action against the recipient of the call unless funds are transferred or payment made immediately. These agencies have stated they do not take this kind of initial action by phone. This is a scam.
  • Tech Support Scams. The scammer states he is a technology support representative and needs to correct a nonexistent problem with the computer. He/she then requests remote access which allows him to obtain personal information from the recipient or even to control the recipient’s accounts or computer.
  • Phone Scam. The caller asks “Can you hear me?” You answer “Yes.” At that point he/she has a recording of your stating “yes” and may use it to authorize other charges.

Of all the scams the “Romance Scams” may be the most cruel and among the most difficult to combat. A 2023 New York Times article by Emily Schmall, “Retirees Are Losing Their Life Savings to Romance Scams. Here’s What to Know,” https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/03/business/retiree-romance-scams.html describes how seniors, especially during the lonely Covid-19 era fell prey to romance schemes and how the trend continued. As one example, a woman who was a Pennsylvania resident accepted a Facebook friend request from a person describing himself as a Norwegian doctor working in Iraq. After months of communicating he asked for money. By December, 2020 the woman had given $39,000 in gift cards to him and his “family”. Eventually she lost her savings, proceeds from her late husband’s life insurance, her pension and income from Social Security. Despite all this she stated the loss that hurt the most was losing this man’s love and the family she thought she was going to have. Some scammers pretend to be celebrities seen on television. The Times article quoted a Chicago elder law attorney who stated he had “seen elders mortgage their houses, borrow large sums of money from their neighbors, empty out their retirement accounts…It is absolutely astonishing…how much money someone can get out of an elderly person’s account before anyone really notices
and puts a stop to it…”

About the Author Janet Colliton

Esquire, Colliton Law Associates, P.C. Janet Colliton has practiced law for over 38 years, 37 of them in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her practice, Colliton Law Associates, PC, is limited to elder law, Medicaid, including advice, applications and appeals, and other benefits planning including Veterans benefits, life care and special needs planning, guardianships, retirement, and estate planning and administration.

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