Senior woman yelling at computer

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Scams involving alleged romance, lottery or prize sweepstakes, business imposters and tech support are among the top types of ways that older adults’ retirement savings are stolen, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The federal agency hosted a webinar Tuesday sharing free resources and tips to help  older adults and their caregivers recognize and avoid cyber scams.

Younger people report losing money to fraud (44% of adults aged 20 to 29) compared with older adults (20% of those aged 70 to 79), but older adults have higher losses ($1,300 each, on average) compared with their younger counterparts ($324), according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2020.

CFPB Office for Older Americans Senior Policy Analyst Lisa Schifferle, a panelist, said that one positive point is that older adults mostly use credit cards to pay for things, which offer greater levels of protection than some other forms of payment. But older adults still lost $44 million in 2020 when they paid scammers with credit cards. And although only 4.3% of older adults paid scammers through wire transfers, it was the top reported way to lose money, at $112 million lost.

The CFPB offers a guide designed specifically for professionals at assisted living communities and nursing homes to help prevent the elder financial exploitation of residents. 

The top cyber scams affecting older adults, Schifferle said, are tech support scams, online dating scams, mortgage closing scams and investment scams. Online dating scams strip older adults of the highest dollar amounts, but tech support scams are the most reported. 

Mortgage-closing and investment scams are particularly harmful to older adults at risk of losing their homes or retirement savings when they need them most, Schifferle said. The CFPB has a mortgage-closing checklist that older adults and their families can refer to as they work through financial issues without being scammed.

Other resources from the CFPB include a Money Smart for Older Adults resource guide developed in collaboration with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The guides are available in bulk at no charge. The CFPB also provides information on pandemic-related scams, including COVID-19 testing scams, government imposter scams, and financial protections for anyone having trouble paying rent or utilities.

Cybercrime Support Network Chief Program Officer Cindy Liebes said the effect of cybercrimes — especially on older adults — is significant. Victims can feel guilt, fear, denial, isolation, depression, betrayal, shame, anger, anxiety and loneliness, she said.

The network is a national nonprofit serving individuals and small businesses affected by cybercrime. 

“It’s devastating emotionally and financially for victims,” Liebes said, adding that it can be difficult to find resources, that law enforcement lacks the tools to investigate every cybercrime, and that criminals often are difficult to find because they may be located in another country or working in groups.

The Cybercrime Support Network offers several resources for older adults, their caregivers and anyone affected by cybercrimes:

  • The Military & Veteran Program targets members and veterans of the military, who collectively reported losing more than $822 million to scammers between 2017 and 2021. 
  • The #SecureTogether program provides a way for caregivers to help loved ones protect themselves online. In a few steps, caregivers can help older adults implement multi-factor authentication on accounts, strengthen privacy and security settings, activate automatic updates on devices and browsers, and identify elements of phishing scams.
  • The Peer Support Program provides counselor-led sessions in a safe environment to help romance scam survivors combat feelings of loss, embarrassment and isolation while providing cybercrime education.