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Elder Financial Abuse and Exploitation: Fueled by FOMO?

By Steve Smith

According to the FTC, Americans lost $637 million to COVID-19 scams. Many of them were likely elderly. That’s one of the useful facts in a recent AARP editorial that describes how those being scammed are made vulnerable by something called “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. FOMO used to be associated with the young and impressionable, but is now found in people of all ages, linked with lower self-esteem and having less compassion for ones self. According to AARP’s “Fraud Frontiers” survey of October 2021, scam victims were more than five times more likely to feel loneliness and 63 percent more likely to do something they regret later while feeling bad.

It brings to mind that TV spot we’ve all seen for collectible coins imploring the viewer to avoid “future regret.” In other words, don’t miss out. Act now. Inaction will result in your feeling (even more) terrible about yourself.

Amy Nofziger, director of fraud victim support for AARP Fraud Watch Network, says fraudsters are using FOMO as a “secret sauce” to push fake government grants, celebrity imposter scams, romance rackets and crypto currency fraud.

Unlike elder exploitation perpetrated by victims’ family members, the FOMO fraudsters come from nowhere – or anywhere – and disappear as quickly. Elder law experts can help by offering tips to avoid being victimized, and a list of specialized services in areas like estate planning, Medicare, retirement planning, Social Security, veterans benefits and more. The website ElderLawAnswers.com  lists elder law attorneys throughout the United States and offers informative, in-depth guides on a number of elder law topics.

The AARP article I mentioned, Crooks Use Fear of Missing Out to Scam Consumers, offers these FOMO-fighting tips:

  • Don’t fall for glowing testimonials. According to the SEC, investment scammers hire celebrities and social-media influencers to talk up questionable schemes, and they pay actors to portray “everyday people” and deliver fake reviews.
  • Beware the words “everybody’s doing it.” Nofziger notes that scammers sometimes target faith communities or other groups precisely because members share and value their strong connections. “Check yourself before you make an investment,” she says. “Do you want the investment or the excitement of the group?”
  • Critique your motivation. If you’re having thoughts such as “everybody else is doing this, I’d be a loser if I miss out” or “Other people are getting rich (or finding love or meeting their celebrity crush), I shouldn’t miss out” — it’s FOMO. 
  • Turn off your emotions. “If you feel you’re keyed up emotionally and your brain is trying to rush through making a decision, tell yourself, ‘OK, I’m not in the right headspace to make this decision,’ ” Struck says. Revisit the idea a couple of days later, he advises.
  • Be good to yourself. Feeling lonely? Reach out and connect with family and friends in ways that are enjoyable and meaningful for you, Struck suggests. “It’s not a quick fix, but social connection does make us feel better and buffer us.”

Read more: AARP

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