Why scammers target the elderly

Seems the old ‘Nigerian Prince’ is still up to his old tricks again, scamming his way through the bank accounts of vulnerable Australians. In January, so-called Nigerian scams netted $300,000 from unsuspecting victims, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch.

Those scammers tend to be less active after a large sting like January’s haul. The previous  haul that reached six figures took place in August, when they swiped almost half a million dollars. In subsequent months, for whatever reason, their takings have tended to be smaller.

Not all ‘Nigerian’ scams originate in the African nation, and not all scams use the same methods to lift other people’s money.

But one thing they do have in common is that they mostly hope to target the elderly, as they believe they are the most likely to fall for their ruses.

US financial website AgingInvestor.com has highlighted a number of reasons why some older people are prone to be fleeced in this way. This is what they said:

  • Isolation and loneliness – a fact of life for many seniors who are not closely monitored by loved ones. A pleasant, slick professional calls on the phone in a friendly and engaging manner, and traps the vulnerable elder with kind words, attention and a feeling of connection. The thieves are trained and smart.
  • Diminished cognition – scammers can sometimes, legitimately, get their hands on thousands of names from subscription lists. If the ages of the subscribers are included, then their chances of finding victims with early dementia are excellent. Some elderly people will be just impaired enough that they can’t see a scam coming. At least a third of those aged 85 and above have dementia in some form. Research into the impairments of Alzheimer’s tells us that financial judgment may be the first to erode, and though the impairment may be significant, it may not be obvious initially.
  • Financial insecurity – many elderly people have lived through the Great Depression. That experience left an indelible mark on their view that all could be lost and that there may not be enough for tomorrow. Whether true or not, people can succumb to temptation if they feel they can receive easy money. Perhaps a bit of greed is a factor, too.  

If you are concerned that your money may be at risk of being scammed, approach a trusted family member or friend, or a professional adviser to help you check your financial statements regularly for large, inexplicable transactions.

In the meantime, keep your computer and smartphone’s anti-virus software up to date; be wary of emails that don’t address you by name or misspell your details, or have unknown attachments; don’t click any links on a suspicious email; don’t open the door to someone you do not recognise; don’t answer a phone call from an unknown number and, very importantly, do not dial the number back.

For more tips on how to protect yourself against scammers, visit Scamwatch.

Related articles:
When not to answer your phone
Scammers getting sneakier
Scams target pensioners

All content on the YourLifeChoices’ website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care, but no guarantees are provided for ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness with regard to your circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances. Financial comments provided by readers cannot be relied on as professional advice, but as general comments only.

Written by Olga Galacho

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