Cryptocurrency scams involving elders are on the rise, with the FBI reporting that senior citizen victims lost over $1 billion last year. Elders have long been easy targets of financial exploitation; there’s plenty of data showing that older Americans hold a large chunk of this country’s wealth, and they’re especially vulnerable to falling for phishing and other online scams because of their trusting nature and lack of awareness of fraud prevention. Not to mention, many are also reluctant to ask family members for advice or help because they’re scared their family might restrict their financial independence.
Combined, these and many other factors create the perfect storm, especially for scams involving investments in cryptocurrency. According to research by the U.S. Department of Justice, over 3,000 senior citizens were victims of investment cryptocurrency scams. The most common of these scams usually start out as advertisements on social media, such as Facebook, “featuring individuals with incredible success stories about how they gained great riches investing in cryptocurrency,” as reported in a recent Bankless Times story. These so-called success stories usually turn out to be Ponzi schemes.
In her Bankless Times report, Emily Sherlock lays out five red flags of potential elder fraud involving crypto, which estate planners and financial advisors might want to be on the lookout for:
- An elderly client who opens an account at a crypto asset exchange (and begins making transfers to an associated crypto wallet), despite demonstrating minimal or no knowledge of cryptocurrency;
- An elderly client who starts using their debit or credit card to make frequent and/or high-value purchases of crypto assets;
- An elderly client funds their purchase of crypto assets with substantial savings from a retirement account;
- An elderly client starts making large cash withdrawals from their bank account and indicates that they intend to deposit the funds at a bitcoin ATM; or
- A caregiver of an elderly client starts trading crypto assets in inexplicably large amounts that appear to be beyond the caregiver’s own means.
Though crypto investment scams are the most common, other scams involving digital currency shouldn’t be overlooked. A recent case out of Alabama involved targeted pop-up ads on a computer that fraudulently directed the victim to contact customer service regarding an issue with her Apple account. A scammer representative then instructed the victim to withdraw $20,000 to take to the bitcoin machine to resolve an issue with her account. Alert citizens spotted the victim depositing the large amount of money and police officers were able to intervene. A similar scam out of Connecticut involved $60,000 being withdrawn and converted to bitcoin. A quick Google search shows that cases like these are cropping up all over the country.
Proactive practitioners can help protect elderly clients by warning them to be skeptical of too good to be true, unsolicited crypto investment opportunities and some of the common modus operandi of these scams.