What is Elder Fraud and How is the USA fighting it?

elder fraud

If you’ve been reading our recent articles and keeping up with the news, you’ve no doubt heard about the rampant elder fraud targeting seniors. In addition to internet and telephone scams that try to steal funds from unsuspecting seniors, there’s also the frightening trend of elder guardianship scams that you should be aware of.

Elder fraud ring busted

Feeling like you’re a target for fraud is scary, but today we’re reporting a reason to celebrate! A “grandparent scam” fraud ring that extracted nearly $2 million from more than 70 seniors was recently stopped by the Department of Justice (DOJ). This great news is part of the trend of local police and federal departments stepping up their game to prevent ruthless criminals from targeting seniors like you. 

How did the “grandparent scam” work?

Scammers use different methods to target seniors, but one of the worst is the “grandparent scam.” For this scheme, fraudsters contact seniors and pretend to be a grandchild or another close relative. The fake relative says they need of help and asks for money. Many of the seniors caught up in this incident were tricked by very believable phone calls. Sometimes the scammers would claim they were in legal trouble and needed money for bail. Other times they’d say they were having trouble paying medical bills due to an accident.

The fraud victims were asked to hand-deliver the funds to someone posing as a friend of the family, wire the money to an account or send cash using a cashier’s check. Other times the money was sent through a peer-to-peer payment app like Venmo or PayPal. 

All in all, the scammers extorted more than $2 million from this group of seniors. The average victim gave up thousands to tens of thousands of dollars thinking they were doing the right thing helping out their family.

Who are the scammers?

To stop the scam, the DOJ worked alongside the San Diego Elder Justice Task Force. This local task force is believed to be the first of its kind to make a coordinated effort with the FBI, district and federal attorneys, and local law enforcement to crack down on elder fraud.

At this point, the task force has indicted eight individuals. Six have been arrested and two have been charged. The defendants are from California, Arizona and Florida, three states with large senior populations. They average in age from mid-20s to 40s, with one individual in their 70’s. 

What is Elder Fraud… and How to Protect Yourself

Stopping this crew is an encouraging development, but there are still scammers out there who target seniors. In 2020, scammers made more than $2 billion from seniors. Because of this ongoing danger, you need to continue protecting yourself and implementing safe practices when talking with anyone you don’t know, especially if they’re asking about money. You can help keep yourself safe by following a few key practices:

  • Never trust an unsolicited call, email, or mailer from someone asking for money.
  • Don’t give out personal information like bank account numbers to anyone you haven’t worked with before.
  • If you suspect you might be the victim of fraud, stop communication immediately and contact law enforcement.
  • In doubt of an individual or organization’s credentials? Do an internet search for their name and look for any connection to fraud.
  • Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus software.
  • A legitimate organization will never require you to send physical cash in the mail.

Unfortunately, conspiracies like the grandparent scam are now a part of life. But remaining aware and cautious can make sure you and your finances stay safe.


image credit: shutterstock/simon jhuan