Elderly Pennsylvanians are being defrauded to the tune of an estimated $1.2 billion per year, according to a recent study, and when it happens, many do not report it to the authorities.
More than 200,000 scams and financial abuse cases targeting the elderly are reported to authorities every year, “and most experts agree that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” the study reports. “Our estimates show $1.17 billion in damages are reported to authorities, but the real figure likely dwarfs that amount when factoring in unreported elder fraud.”
Nationally-recognized consumer advocate Mary Bach of Murrysville agreed.
“These cases are seriously under-reported,” she said. “There’s a lack of education about how all of this transpires, and some people do end up giving information to scam callers.”
While Pennsylvania does not top the list in total losses — California is at the top, with an estimated $2.4 billion in annual losses due to elder fraud — the numbers are concerning for Bach.
“We just have to realize the ‘red flag’ moments in our lives and recognize that scam artists looking to get our bank accounts and information are out there with a vengeance,” she said.
Tried-and-true fraud scams are also regularly modified in order to take advantage of popular stories in the national news cycle.
“The latest and greatest iteration has come along as new Medicare cards have rolled out,” Bach said. “People are getting calls about their Social Security numbers to aid in ‘changing things over’ to the new Medicare card.”
“Those have been rampant, and the bottom line with all of these imposter calls is that no legitimate agency like Medicare, the IRS or Social Security Administration is going to call you over the phone and ask for your private information,” she said.
Such organizations “use the old-fashioned U.S. Postal Service,” Bach said. “But people are anticipating a new Medicare card, and then they get this call saying something is compromised with their Social Security number and the scammer wants you to help them ‘fix’ the situation. They don’t want something to go wrong with their Medicare, and so maybe they provide that private information.”
According to the Comparitech study, only 1 in 23.5 cases of elder fraud are reported to authorities.
That means in Pennsylvania, where 8,156 cases were reported in 2018 totaling more than $50 million in losses, the estimated case count and loss number is closer to 191,700 and $1.2 billion, Comparitech officials said.
Bach said many times, a little common sense can go a long way.
“You certainly have to enter a sweepstakes to win, so if someone calls you out of the blue and says you’ve won something, you probably haven’t,” she said. “And free means free. If you have won a prize, it should be sent to you outright. There’s no reason you should need to send them anything, particularly never private credit card or bank information.”
Bach said gift cards are often requested as a source of payment, which should raise an immediate red flag for consumers.
“No legitimate agency is going to tell to pay by sending some type of gift card,” she said.
Comparitech’s study estimated that elder fraud results in annual losses of $27.4 billion in the U.S.