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What to Do If Your Parent Gets Scammed

Advice on the top three financial frauds targeting older Americans

By Richard Eisenberg

The U.S. Department of Justice recently conducted the largest coordinated sweep of elder financial fraud cases in history, charging more than 200 people with stealing more than half a billion dollars from over a million Americans. But what should you do if you think your mother or father has been victimized by another scammer?

Financial Fraud
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As the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says about suspicious terrorism activities: If you see something, say something.

At the American Society on Aging’s 2018 Aging in America conference in San Francisco, a panel of elder fraud experts said it’s critically important for “bystanders” — often family members — to intervene if they suspect elder financial abuse is happening. But people rarely do.

Citing one study, panelist Liz Loewy, general counsel and senior vice president of the elder fraud protection service Eversafe, said: “Forty-three of 44 cases of elder financial abuse are not reported.”

Even if you only have a strong hunch fraud has been committed, said panelist and elder justice consultant Judith Kozlowski: “If something is bothering you, trust your gut.”

Here are the top three scams targeting older Americans, based on calls received by the Fraud Hotline of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, and what to do if your parent fell for one:

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Impersonation Scams

Here, the crook says the person owes back taxes and penalties, threatening things like an arrest or foreclosure unless payment is made. More than 12,300 Americans have lost over $64.9 million from the scam.

What to do: Report the call by using the IRS Impersonation Scam form on the website of the United States Treasury. Also, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on that agency’s website; add IRS Telephone Scam in the notes.

Robocalls/Unsolicited Phone Calls

Your parent may have signed up for the Do Not Call registry, but that doesn’t mean he or she won’t receive robocalls or unsolicited calls. New technology has helped scammers get around the registry’s rules. Sometimes, the crooks are pitching investment scams. According to a 2017 AARP survey, over half of U.S. financial fraud victims are over 70.


What to do: Help your parent sign up for Nomorobo, a free service Loewy recommends that blocks certain robocalls. Nomorobo reroutes incoming calls to check them against a list of spammers. If the crook is on that list, the call will disconnect after one ring.

Sweepstakes/Jamaican Lottery Scams

Here, your parent mistakenly believed a caller or letter saying he or she won a lottery or was entered into a contest. So your mother or father paid a fee to collect the money or to improve the odds of winning. The phone scams often come from what looks like an 876 area code, Jamaica’s. What really happens: the “winner” just gets more calls from scammers demanding more money.

What to do: Report the scam to the FTC on the agency’s website or by calling 888-382-1222 as well as the state attorney general. If the prize offer came in the mail, report that to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service on its website.

Some Overall Guidance About Financial Fraud

To help spot and prevent financial fraud, read the materials in the financial exploitation part of the federal government’s Elder Justice Initiative site. And if your father or mother gets a suspicious call, call the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline (855-303-9470) and notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“The FBI reminds seniors and their caregivers to be vigilant. If any person believes they are the victim of, or have knowledge of fraud involving an elderly person, regardless of the loss amount, they should report it to the FBI,” said the agency’s acting deputy director David Bowdich, when the Justice Department announced its crackdown.

Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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