According to the 2021 FBI Elder Fraud Report – which was released in June of this year -- there were over 92,000 elder fraud victims who lost $1.7 billion to identity theft and fraud in 2021. These losses were a 74 percent increase over 2020.
Unfortunately, cyber thieves and ID theft criminals targeted the senior/elder demographic (60 years of age and older) where the average dollar loss per elder victim was $18,246. In addition, 3,133 elder victims lost more than $100,000 each.
Incidentally, I wrote a September 2019 article titled 2020 Prediction: Senior ID Theft to Get Significantly Worse, and based on the above, my 2019 prediction has become a reality.
So how is senior/elder fraud happening?
According to the FBI, “elder fraud takes many forms as criminals find ways to take advantage of this vulnerable and growing population. Seniors are a particularly vulnerable victim group and are often specifically targeted for financial fraud crimes.”
In addition, the FBI states that “seniors are often more polite and trusting, have difficulty saying no, may be lonely or spend a great deal of time alone, may have diminished physical or mental capacity, are less likely to report the crime out of shame, and are often financially stable and own their homes.”
Another reason there was a significant increase in elder fraud in 2021 is that cyber thieves and ID theft criminals capitalized on the fear and uncertainty around the COVID-19 crisis by using phishing campaigns and cyber scams to target seniors.
Think about it, when the Covid-19 crisis happened, the economy was shut down, businesses were forced to close, and many seniors were participating in our digital economy for the first time. Examples of our digital economy include shopping online, dating online, banking online, e-payment online, e-books online, digital downloads online, and social media online.
To make matters worse, most seniors were not (and are not) very familiar with their home network security.
Specific to a senior’s home network security and the protection of their computers, smartphones, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as ring doorbells, smart refrigerators, smartwatches, smart door locks, and medical sensors – most seniors were not (and are not) familiar with using strong passwords/passphrases, Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and changing the default passwords on IoT devices.
And it’s not just about secure online activity as scammers exploit the senior demographic through Phishing (fraudulent emails), Vishing (fraudulent phone calls and voice mail messages) and Smishing (fraudulent text messages) tactics.
The FBI Elder Fraud Report said the top 10 elder scam crime types included the following:
Tech Support Victims
Real Estate/Rental Victims
Identity Theft Victims
Confidence Fraud/Romance Victims
Personal Data Breach Victims
Advanced Fee Victims
Seniors can protect themselves by (1) recognizing scam attempts (2) resisting the pressure to act quickly, as scammers create a sense of urgency to pressure victims into immediate action (3) being cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door services offers (4) protecting your identity by never sharing your personally identifiable information (PII) and (5) making sure your computer anti-virus, security software and malware protections are up to date.
Lastly, and according to Phoenix, Arizona based security consultant John Iannarelli (FBI Special Agent, Retired), “if you believe you or someone you know may have been a victim of elder fraud, contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.”