10 Tips to Protect Seniors From Being Scammed
Common scams to watch out for and what to do about them.
Each year, millions of seniors fall victim to some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme. Financial abuse targeting seniors is a widespread issue affecting lots of people. The FBI estimates that seniors lose more than $3 billion each year to fraudsters.
So why are seniors common targets? There are many factors. Older Americans have had more time to accumulate wealth, which is often invested in their homes and retirement savings. Some scams target older adults because of perceived or real frailty. Today’s seniors also grew up in a more trusting time. When older adults are scammed, they’re often too embarrassed to report the crime.
You may not realize it, but scams targeting older adults are a form of elder abuse. At Hebrew SeniorLife, our Center for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect is dedicated to combating the incidence of elder abuse in Massachusetts. One of the ways we do that is by providing education on how to identify signs of abuse and advocating for the rights of older people who have experienced abuse or exploitation.
Common Scams Targeting Seniors
One of the best ways to protect yourself from scams at any age is to familiarize yourself with some of the most common schemes that scammers use to steal money, bank information, and other personal details.
Seniors get a call saying they’ve won millions of dollars and need to pay administrative fees or taxes to receive money.
A call or email to the grandparent posing as law enforcement or medical professionals claiming to represent a family member in distress (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.). They might also pose as the “grandchild” directly asking the grandparent to guess who is calling. Scammers ask for money to be wired to pay for medical bills or legal fees.
Fake Virus or Ransomware
Pop-up browser windows simulating virus-scanning software will fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that will allow scammers direct access to the computer. Also, popups claim that the computer has been locked and requires payment within a very short time or the files will be deleted.
Tech Support Scam
Scammers claiming to be from legitimate companies demand payment for unnecessary tech support services, or to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Sometimes scammers will create fake websites with a number to call to receive support.
A senior receives email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking them to “update” or “verify” their personal information. Scammers also use LinkedIn and other social media networks like Facebook to gather information. They can then use the victim’s connections to trick the victim into thinking their contact is messaging them.
False Online Shopping
Scammers set up websites that seem like legitimate storefronts but only exist to collect your payment information or sell stolen goods. These sites can look surprisingly real, and might be found on social media or in websites' comments sections.
Using a fake online identity, a scammer will gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim. This type of scam can occur on dating and social media sites.
A senior gets a scary phone call saying their name or social security number was used in a crime such as a stolen car or illegal drug purchase.
Social Security Scam
Scammers pretend they represent Social Security Administration (SSA) and need money to adjust a senior’s Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).
A senior receives a phone call or voice message claiming to be the IRS. The scammer will say that the senior owes taxes and could be sent to jail if they don’t receive payment right away.
Scammers try to steal personal information and identity by calling and asking for information in order to issue the senior a new Medicare card or offer you discounted additional coverage.
Deals on Prescriptions
Preying on the high cost of medical care, scammers offer discounted medications. They might even send a sample drug that could be harmful if taken.
False Investment Opportunities
An unsolicited call or email from a financial advisor offering a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Scammers will claim that the senior has been given too much money due to an accounting mistake, and demand the money back.
Scammers offer deals on different types of insurance such as home, auto, and life in order to obtain personal information from seniors.
Tips to Prevent a Scam
In addition to being familiar with common types of scams, recognizing warning signs can help prevent you from becoming the victim of a scam. Above all else, listen to your gut. If something feels off about a stranger’s request, it’s okay to be skeptical and investigate further before taking action.
Here are some other tips:
- Don’t act quickly
Scams are based on fear and urgency. Always take a little extra time to think it through and evaluate the legitimacy of what you are being asked to do.
- Avoid odd payment types
Scammers will often ask you to send them money with a wire transfer, money order, cryptocurrency, payment app, or gift card. Legitimate businesses will accept credit cards. Be suspicious of excuses for alternative forms of payment.
- Notice threatening behavior
Often scams are presented as urgent situations requiring immediate action. If you receive threats or hostility for asking questions that’s a sign they are a scammer.
- Be suspicious of fake caller IDs
Using computer software, scammers can make phone calls and emails that look like they're coming from legitimate companies, government organizations, or your local area code. Often it is best to ignore people that contact you uninitiated. At the very least avoid sharing private information. Looking up the organization's contact information and contacting them yourself is a safer option.
Also, scammers can pretend to be a social media connection for whom the victim does not know very well. A con artist could use a fake local number to text the victim. As the victim might only have the connection’s social media or work phone they might think the “connection” is contacting them from a personal cell phone.
- Be cautious of impersonation
Con artists can sometimes pretend to be the government. Before making investments or online payments, be sure that you have confirmed that the organization is a legitimate business by asking for information about the company and checking that they are registered with the Better Business Bureau.
- Do not reveal personal information
Con artists can try to get you to provide them with personal information like your Social Security number, account numbers, passwords, credit cards, or other identifying information which can be sold to fraudsters.
- Avoid suspicious links
Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails, texts, or social media messages.
- Ask a friend or family member
Before giving out your credit card number or money, ask a friend or family member if the request or situation seems suspicious—particularly if you’ve been told by someone you don’t know that the person needs help.
- Add extra security to your accounts
Many online accounts let you turn on multifactor authentication. You may then need to enter a code that's sent to your phone or email, or that you generate with an app, before accessing your account. Enabling this extra security measure can keep scammers out of your accounts even if they get hold of your username and password.
- Call the Hotline
If you feel that you or someone you know may be a victim of elder abuse, there’s no need to be ashamed - it can happen to anyone. The faster you report the crime, the better chance you have of minimizing the consequences. Call this 24-hour, toll free, elder abuse hotline at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs at (800) 922-2275.
Financial exploitation is just one form of elder abuse. At Hebrew SeniorLife, we are committed to bringing attention to the issue of elder abuse and talking about it within our communities. Working together to recognize the signs and symptoms and take action, we can help seniors stay safe.
Virginia Ngai, Elder Justice Advocate at Hebrew SeniorLife, contributed to this post.
Whether we're making discoveries or developing new teaching methods, HSL continuously works to improve the lives of older adults.