Scams targeting seniors are increasing at a frightening rate. Fraud victims over 60 reported roughly $1.7 billion in losses in 2021, according to the Federal Investigation Bureau (FBI). From government impersonation scams to tech support scams to lottery scams, it’s easy to be conned if you don’t know what to look for. Falling victim to a scam can leave you financially vulnerable and make recovering challenging.
Unfortunately, no one is immune to becoming a victim of fraud. While there is no antidote or way to guarantee you won’t be taken advantage of, becoming familiar with common scams and learning strategies to protect yourself can help you avoid becoming a fraud victim.
Read on to learn:
• Why scams on elderly people are so common
• What are the most popular kind of scams targeting seniors
• How to protect yourself and loved ones from falling for these cons.
Why Are Elderly People Often Targeted for Scams
Fraudsters want money. Since older individuals are perceived to have more money in the bank, scammers assume seniors are easy targets. However, this doesn’t mean that you are not exempt from common money scams if you’re a low-income senior. You still must proceed with caution to protect your assets.
Other reasons swindlers target seniors with scams on elderly people includes:
• Isolation. Loneliness can make seniors more vulnerable to elderly fraud scams since they strongly desire to build social relationships. This can make them more willing to engage with scammers by phone.
• Overly trusting. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), elderly folks are more trusting than other generations, making them vulnerable to con artists.
• Lowered cognition. Age can increase the probability of cognitive decline as well as conditions like dementia. As a result, it’s hard for these folks to remember things like the amount of money they have in the bank or differentiate between real and fake. This means a fraudster could impersonate a banker or someone close to an aging individual with dementia, and they may not know the difference.
• Insecurities. Some scammers bully victims into doing what they want, like handing over their bank information. Or the fraudster plays on their insecurity about health care or Social Security. They may threaten that if they don’t pay a medical bill, their health coverage will be canceled. Cultivating this fear may motivate a senior to go with whatever the con artist requests.
• Embarrassment. Many elderly folks are embarrassed after being scammed, so they choose not to report the crime. Because many of these crimes go unreported, cybercriminals know they can fly under the radar by targeting seniors.
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13 Scams Against the Elderly to Be Aware Of
Fraudsters use a variety of scams on the elderly. Here are some common old people scams you can watch out for.
1. Malware Scams
With this scam, the cybercriminal will send an email containing an innocent-looking malware link the recipient can download. Perhaps the link will supposedly download family photos from a relative or allow the user to update a compromised password. Once the recipient hits download, the link could install ransomware or other software that can harm the computer. Such software allows the scammer to access private information on your computers, such as tax files or other financial documents.
2. Lottery or Sweepstakes Scams
At first glance, receiving an email or phone call stating you’ve won the lottery or a sweepstake seems exciting. Unfortunately, fraudsters use this strategy as a scam on the elderly, cheating them out of hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars.
Here’s how it works: The scammer will tell you you’ve won a prize through a lottery or sweepstakes. But, to receive your winnings, you must pay the taxes upfront. Once you do so, they will send the remaining funds. But, unfortunately, your payday never comes, and the fraudster runs off with the victim’s cash that was sent as “taxes.”
Recommended: Budgeting for Elderly Family Members or Loved Ones
3. Robocall Scams
Robocalls automatically contact a large number of people across the world. While some robocalls contact people legally, others use robocalling as a gateway to scam many individuals efficiently. One example of a robocall scam targeting the elderly is the caller stating that there is an “impending lawsuit” that you’re involved in. The caller claims to be someone from a law enforcement agency or the government and tells the victim that a fine must be paid immediately to avoid litigation.
Another example is the “can you hear me” scam. This scam entails someone calling you and asking if they can hear you. Once you say “yes”, they record the call and hang up. They can use this signature voice recording to authorize purchase on your credit card.
4. Government Impersonation Scams
Government imposter scams targeting the elderly involve the fraudster contacting an elderly individual claiming to be someone from a government organization like Medicare, the Social Security Administration, or the IRS. The fraudster may say the victim owes back taxes that must be paid right away or they might be arrested or deported, depending on the situation.
The government impersonator will demand a specific type of payment such as a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Usually, to make the call seem more legitimate, they will use a Washington D.C. area code, making the victim think the call is real.
5. Grandparent Scam
In the grandparent scam, a swindler will call an older adult impersonating one of their grandchildren. Once the senior picks up the phone, the fraudster will say, “Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the confused senior gives a response, guessing it’s a younger relative, the scammer will agree to secure their trust.
After the trust is built, the swindler will ask for money for a financial problem but beg them not to tell the rest of the family. They often request a money transfer or prepaid card since both may not require ID to access the funds.
6. Investment Scams
Investment scams involve someone illegally selling financial instruments with a promise of a guaranteed return and low risk. Or they might offer a get-rich-quick scheme. A common investment scam targeting seniors is when someone encourages an older adult to invest in digital assets such as Bitcoin.
In 2021, investment scams resulted in over $239 billion of loss for people over 60 years old.
7. Health Insurance and Medicare Scams
As a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you’re eligible for Medicare once you reach age 65. Because swindlers know seniors usually have Medicare, it’s an easy way to target them. With this scam, the fraudsters will impersonate a Medicare representative and require personal information. Or they may offer fake services that the victim can purchase. However, these services never come to fruition, but the fraudsters do get the details they could use to commit identity theft or other ploys.
8. Sweetheart Scams
A sweetheart or romance scam is a scam on the elderly that plays on the victim’s emotions to entice them to hand over money. With this, the imposter will connect with a senior online and develop a relationship. Once they have the victim’s trust, they ask for money for financial issues such as debt.
Imposters usually prey on seniors who are isolated and crave human connection or widows/widowers who have just lost their spouses.
9. Phishing Scams
With a phishing scam, the imposter will send an email or text from what appears to be a legitimate source like your bank. They will request you verify personal information such as your Social Security number or log-in credentials. Once given this information, it’s difficult to keep a bank account safe online, and funds can be stolen.
10. Tech Support Scams
For victims over the age of 60, tech support scams are the most commonly reported type of fraud. Tech scams against the elderly typically involve a fraudster impersonating a recognizable tech company offering to fix an issue that doesn’t exist. They may also offer to renew fraudulent software. This imposter will then direct the victim to make a payment via wire transfer, overnight check, or prepaid credit card. They are then able to walk away with those funds.
Recommended: Tips to Keep Your Credit Card Safe from Hackers
11. Inheritance Scams
Similar to lottery or sweepstakes scams, imposters tell the victim that they have a distant relative who left them a large sum of money after their passing. All the victims need to do is pay the taxes and fees. Once that happens, the imposter says they will send the large sum of money to their account. But, the inheritance never comes, and the victim loses their money to fraud.
12. Credit Card Advance Scams
An elderly fraud scam involving a credit card advance works like this: An imposter will put a legitimate credit card company’s name (like Visa) on a credit card ad. The ad will offer an instant pre-approval of thousands of dollars of cash upfront. The catch is that you must pay the annual fee first, which usually requires the victim to provide their Social Security number and bank information. Remember, lenders and creditors usually need to know your credit score before loaning money.
12. Caregiver Scams
Unfortunately, strangers are not the only ones trying to defraud the elderly. Caregivers or family members may also exploit and attempt to scam on elderly. They can do so by swiping cash from their wallet or requesting money for bogus expenses.
13. Home Repair Scams
Home repair scams involve a scammer showing up to your doorstep offering repair services like window replacement or a kitchen renovation. Then they will request an upfront payment or trick you into applying for a loan. After you make your payment, they never show up to do the work.
What Happens if You Are Victim to One of These Attacks?
It’s no surprise that victims of fraud suffer financial consequences. However, the severity depends on the exact crime. Unfortunately, many of these cons can wreak havoc with your checking and savings accounts and beyond. For example, if a fraudster steals your identity, the financial hardship could continue for months or even years. In addition, it can damage your credit, tamper with Social Security benefits, mess up tax returns, and compromise your bank and investment accounts. All of which can be an uphill battle to restore order.
Not only does falling victim to these crimes compromise your financial security, but it can take a toll on your emotional, physical, and social state. Therefore, that’s why protecting yourself or loved ones from elderly fraud scams is so important.
If you are a victim of an elderly fraud scam, here are a few steps to take:
• Pay close attention to bank and investment accounts. Keep tabs on your bank activity so that you can spot suspicious transactions.
• Change your passwords. If you think the scammer hacked your accounts, update your passwords.
• Jot down every detail of the crime. Do your best to write as much information about the crime as possible. Information includes dates, times, email addresses, etc.
• Report the crime. It’s best to report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission, the primary agency that collects scam reports. To report your scam, you can contact the FTC via phone at 1-877-382-4357 or online . Once you report the crime, the FTC will provide next steps for moving forward. It’s always wise to reach out to your bank or financial institution to make them aware of the incident.
Ways to Protect Yourself (And Loved Ones) From Elderly Scams
One of the best ways to protect yourself and loved ones from elderly scams is to avoid making quick financial decisions. Take a closer look at this point, along with several other ways you can protect yourself from scammers.
• Take time to act if someone is trying to pressure you into making an immediate payment. Tell them you need to think about it. Legitimate businesses and government entities won’t force you to make a split-second decision.
• Update your computer’s security software.
• Avoid clicking on links or attachments from unknown senders.
• Research domains to ensure they are legitimate before engaging in business online.
• Make your social media account private.
• Avoid sending wire transfers to someone you don’t know, even if you have a relationship with them online.
• Reach out to your bank or financial institution if it seems they are attempting to communicate with you. You can find official numbers on the back of your credit card. Don’t assume that just because someone says they are calling “from your bank” that they are telling the truth.
• Avoid unsolicited communication such as calls or emails that say you’ve won a prize.
• Don’t make a deal with someone (say, a supposed tradesperson or utility-company representative) who shows up at your home. Request their contact information and tell them you will reach out at a later date.
• Be skeptical of those who ask you to submit payment using a prepaid gift card.
Recommended: Helping Elderly Family Members Manage Their Finances
As the world becomes more technologically advanced, so does the sophistication of scammers attempting to access your money and identity. Fraudsters are lurking around every corner in the hope that you will slip up and share your personal information. To keep you and your loved ones safe, avoid engaging in money activities with folks you don’t know and do your best to protect your personal information at all costs.
3 Money Tips
- Typically, checking accounts don’t earn interest. However, some accounts do, and online banks are more likely than brick-and-mortar banks to offer you the best rates.
- When you overdraft your checking account, you’ll likely pay a non-sufficient fund fee of, say, $35. Look into linking a savings account to your checking account as a backup to avoid that, or shop around for a bank that doesn’t charge you for overdrafting.
- If you’re faced with debt and wondering which kind to pay off first, it can be smart to prioritize high-interest debt first. For many people, this means their credit card debt; rates have recently been climbing into the double-digit range, so try to eliminate that ASAP.
How many elderly people fall victim to scams every year?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2021, over 92,000 elderly Americans reported being the victim of a financial scam, resulting in roughly $1.7 billion of losses.
What should I do if I have fallen victim to a scam on the elderly?
If you have fallen victim to a scam, consider contacting your bank (if your bank accounts were involved), the local police, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) , and the Adult Protective Services division close to you. You can find your local Adult Protective Services contact information here .
What can a scammer do with my information?
When a scammer accesses your personal information like your Social Security number, they can claim Medicare on your behalf, open a credit card, take out loans in your name, or steal your tax refund. Likewise, when a fraudster has your bank account and routing number, they can potentially shop online, write fraudulent checks, and transfer money.
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