By 2050, researchers expect the world population of people over the age of 50 to double to a staggering 3.2 billion people. As of 2015, this group included at least 1.5 billion. It’s no wonder that such a large subset of the population is driving a ton of economic growth. In 2016, this age group held 83% of the wealth in America. Households with the highest median net worth are headed by people in their 70s and 80s.
Though this is great news for retirees, there’s also a devastating downside: It could be just one reason seniors are frequent targets of financial scams. Some scientists believe another reason seniors fall for scams is that aging brains may become less equipped to handle money. Plus, seniors are often more socially isolated. They are more likely to live alone and less likely to have a local support system. All of these factors can create situations in which scammers lure seniors into financial traps.
Unfortunately, this type of crime is difficult to verify. One study, conducted in New York in 2016, suggests that it’s also vastly under-reported. According to the study, only 1 out of every 44 victims reports financial exploitation. This means older people could lose as little as $2.9 billion every year—or as much as $36 billion.
There are many types of scams that target seniors specifically. There are the ever-popular phone scams, where people call and pretend to be someone they’re not, like a grandchild, and ask for money. Gift card scams are also popular. These can involve scammers tricking people into buying them gift cards or paying a fake IRS bill with an iTunes gift card.
However, the New York study found that in about two-thirds of verified financial exploitation cases that the perpetrator is a family member. The victims in these cases were more likely to be older, have a physical impairment, be unable to manage finances, or need assistance.
Sadly, these scams are as difficult to prevent as they are to track. One thing that can help? Try to surround yourself with a support network. And if you’re still a young senior? Be present in others’ lives.