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Senior living: How to protect yourself from scams targeting elders

By Dr. Au-Co Nguyen,

Contributing writer

In 2021, more than 92,000 seniors fell victim to fraud, with reported losses surpassing $1.7 billion, according to the FBI.

Au-Co Ly Nguyen, D.O., primary care, MemorialCare Medical Group. (Photo courtesy of MemorialCare)

Seniors are the most targeted age group for scammers because of the assumption that they have accumulated wealth through retirement funds, pension checks, good credit and other investments.

Those who commit elderly fraud can be a stranger, friend or family member. Falling victim to a scam not only leads to financial loss, but also negative physical and mental implications.

Most common senior scams

With modern technology, scammers keep finding creative ways to take advantage of seniors. It is important to be aware of the most common types.

The most prevalent are:

Health insurance or Medicare scams.
Counterfeit prescription drug scams.
Government impersonation scams.
Funeral scams.
Fake credit card scams.
Grandparent scams.

Scammers attempt to gain access to your Social Security Number, bank account, Medicare information and other personal information to spend your money or open accounts in your name. Some scammers act as imposters for brands you may know and trust, such as your phone or cable providers, and will call asking for your SSN or other personal identifying information.

Never give out your personal information to anyone on the phone or through a text message you may receive.

Other ways scammers may target you is by asking for wire transfers, pretending to be a family member,making door-to-door visits, or asking for fake charity donations. Never let strangers into your home.

Please remember that the Internal Revenue Service, Medicare and other government agencies will not contact you by phone. Avoid answering phone calls from unknown numbers to prevent speaking to a scammer.

The health effects of fraud

Losing your money because of a scam can lead to going without medical care or other basic necessities — including groceries. Because being scammed may leave you in a more compromised position, your physical health may take a toll from the stress.

Therefore, it is crucial to be cautious of these scams to protect your overall health.

Not only do scams effect your financial status, but they can also affect you personally through your mental and emotional health. Excessive worrying and general anxiety about being scammed can interfere with your lifestyle, sleep and appetite.

Being a victim of a scam and losing your money or assets can cause anxiety, depression or grief.

Anxiety and depression may lead to a weakened immune system, making you more susceptible to a cold, an illness, high blood pressure, irritability and more. These effects can come from feeling vulnerable, losing trust in others and grieving the loss of your financial security.

It is vital to find healthy coping mechanisms to deal with your loss.

If you are experiencing any of these or similar symptoms, contact your physician right away to see what services are available to support your mental and physical health.

How to avoid being a victim of fraud

California currently has the highest number of victims of elderly fraud. Below are some preventative measures you can take to prevent being scammed:

Never give out your personal and financial information.
Be suspicious of any unsolicited call, emails, text messages, links or door-to-door visits. If you didn’t reach out to them, don’t feel obligated to return the call or email; or if you do, don’t feel you need to divulge any personal info that could impact your security.
Use reputable antivirus software and firewalls on your computer – your local consumer electronics retailer can assist in installation.
Use credit monitoring and identity theft protection.
Make arrangements with a trustworthy attorney, financial advisor, family member and/or friend so that your assets are secure.

Taking preventative measures is the best step to protect your finances. But if you do end up falling victim to fraud, it’s important to be aware of the negative health associations that come along with it.

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Where to report a senior scam or financial abuse

Part of the reason elderly fraud is so common is that it is often not reported.

If you suspect that you have been scammed, contact Adult Protective Services, which investigates abuse and exploitation of seniors. Also consider reaching out to your bank, credit bureaus and local law enforcement to help limit damage and file a report.

If you fear for yourself or your loved ones, call 911 immediately.

Au-Co Nguyen, is a doctor of osteopathic medicine and specializes in family medicine, geriatric medicine and primary care at MemorialCare Medical Group in Huntington Beach. She studied osteopathic medicine at Midwestern University in Arizona and went on to complete a family medicine residency at Community Health of South Florida, Inc. She chose a career in geriatric medicine, a subspecialty for the aging, because she wants to make a difference in patients’ lives, both mentally and physically. 

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