HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Financial fraud is one of the fastest-growing forms of elder abuse.
It’s become a troubling normal for many people in the Palmetto State. A recent report by Comparitech estimates 38 percent of fraud cases target the elderly.
The report also states one in 10 seniors in the U.S. fell victim to elder fraud in the last year. Annually, there are 5 million cases that result in nearly $27 billion in losses.
As for South Carolina, the report estimates seniors lose nearly $298 million to elder fraud each year. The most common ones seniors fall victim to are over-the-phone, lottery, technology, reverse mortgage, and even romance scams.
Officials with the Better Business Bureau of Coastal Carolina said a vast majority of elder fraud cases in the U.S. go unreported because many victims are often too confused, fearful or embarrassed by the crime to report it.
Experts said seniors are more vulnerable to financial crimes because they may be experiencing cognitive decline or may be dependent on a caregiver with access to their money.
“A lot of times when an elderly person is alone, they’ll make friends with a caretaker, someone who comes in and cleans their house and prepares their meals. A lot of times those are scammers and they’re wanting to get close to their victim," said Renee Wikstrom, communications director for the BBB of Coastal Carolina.
Experts recommend always having at least one other set of eyes on an elder’s finances. For those who do seek a professional, they should do their research to ensure the person is legitimate.
The issue has become so prevalent, the Justice Department is taking aim at financial scams targeting senior citizens.
In the past year, officials said criminal and civil charges have been filed against more than 260 defendants who victimized more than two million Americans, most of them elderly.
The BBB of Coastal Carolina said seniors are most likely to be financially stable, more trusting, and least tech-savvy, which makes them an easy target.
“Red flags that people need to be aware of when you have an elderly person in your family, you want to make sure who’s coming in and out of their home, who has access to their finances, basically who’s taking care of them because there (are) still people being hurt financially and physically," Wikstrom said.
It’s also a good idea to check on an elderly relative’s credit reports regularly to check for fraud. If it’s found, it’s important to contact authorities or the BBB immediately.