Illustration showing fraudsters committing elder fraud in Brazil

It’s a sad truth that senior citizens make attractive targets for fraudsters. I understand all too well how harmful fraud can be to elderly consumers because it happened to my own family. It’s something I hope no individual or family will ever have to experience. That’s why the banking community of Brazil needs to do everything it can to prevent elder fraud before it can do more harm.

How My Family Was Impacted By Elder Fraud

I live in Lisbon, Portugal, while my family lives back home in Brazil. One day, I received a WhatsApp message from my sister telling me that something was wrong. When I asked her to explain what was wrong, she told me that something had happened to our father.

After I sorted out the details over the phone, it finally became clear to me: my father had been targeted by fraudsters. A total of four transactions totaling 6000 BRL had been transferred  from his account, something that he had not authorized.

Thankfully, my family notified the bank and was able to stop two of the four fraudulent transactions. While that minimized the financial impact on my father’s bank account, it still took a heavy toll on his emotional state. 

My father is a military man and very disciplined as a result. In my entire life, I don’t think I ever saw him unshaven. But after his experience with being defrauded, he was visibly upset. I clearly remember seeing stubble on his face for the first time in my life. He was too upset to think about his regular routine like shaving. My sister told me that he had trouble sleeping after the experience. 

But the greatest source of shame for my father was having to tell my mother what happened. My father is a very traditional man who believes he has a duty as a husband and father to provide for his family. After learning he had been defrauded, he felt he couldn’t take care of her. His shame was so great that he insisted we not share the incident to family, friends, or anyone who attends our church.

My father wasn’t the only one impacted by the incident. It also caused great concern for my mother and my sister. And for myself as well. As a fraud expert, being so far away from my family during this crisis was highly frustrating. I wanted to do more for my father, but could only do so much from a different country.

The Scope of Brazil’s Elder Fraud Problem

Fraudsters prey on the elderly because they have accrued wealth and strong credit over their lifetimes, are often trusting and agreeable, and are more likely to experience declines in their memory and mental faculties. 

A survey by Brazil’s Febraban found fraud scams targeting senior citizens increased by 60% in 2020 from March 2020 to September 2020 following pandemic-related quarantine measures. Meanwhile, 70% of fraud was linked to earlier attempts by fraudsters to obtain personal information like passwords, social security numbers, and other sensitive data. 

Febraban’s report outlined how fraudsters work to scam their elderly targets. Some fraudsters call a victim’s home, directly pretending to be a representative of the bank and asking to confirm information like social security numbers, mobile phone numbers, and more. They might also instruct their victim to approve a transfer.

This type of fraud sounds like the scam that was used to target my father. He said he was contacted by someone claiming to be from his bank. He didn’t reveal any personal information and decided to call the bank directly to confirm if the call was legitimate. My theory is that because the fraudsters initiated the phone call, they were able to listen in on the call even after he hung up the phone. This would mean my father unintentionally revealed his personal information without realizing fraudsters were eavesdropping. 

3 Things Brazil’s Banks Can Do to Protect Elderly Customers

What happened to my family is too common a story. My hope is that Brazil’s banking community will take the necessary steps to keep senior citizens safe from fraudsters. Here are three easy fixes that banks can take right now.

  • Communicate with your bank customers. Communicating and educating customers about the threat of fraud is a must. Banks should work overtime to reinforce the seriousness of elder fraud to their customer base. Banks can use their internal data to convey which age groups are most susceptible and if any of their customers have fallen to such scams, they should proactively reach out to them and offer assistance.
  • Look for suspicious banking activity. Banks should proactively look for patterns among their elderly customers that seem out of character. For example, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that a bank customer in their 80s who has traditionally banked by phone or in-person suddenly decides to open an online bank account. By that same measure, banks should not allow that customer to make a large-value transfer on the same day the account is created. Watching for these types of red flags will help banks keep more of their customers safe.
  • Update your bank’s internal processes. Banks need to update their internal guidance processes to respond to suspicious behaviors. Performing a high-value transfer on the same day that an account is opened is just one example of a process that needs to be updated. Or if an existing customer is suddenly making transfers to unfamiliar accounts, banks can intervene if they suspect they are falling for an authorized push payment fraud or a romance scam. One reason fraudsters target elderly victims is because they can be more trusting than other age groups. Bank’s internal processes should demonstrate how they will earn their customers’ trust.

The Febraban report noted that Brazil’s banks are investing 2 million BRL every year on security for their customers. But even with this level of investment, my father was still scammed by malicious actors. Banks need to take more aggressive steps to protect their customers and prevent what happened to my family from happening to others. 

Discover the most common fraud schemes, global fraud hotspots, and the latest in consumer spending trends in the Feedzai Q2 2022 Financial Crime Report: The RiskOps Age.