Unfortunately, senior citizens are one of the most targeted groups for scams, identity theft and fraud. One study estimated that scammers steal $2.9 billion per year from seniors. That’s enough to buy a sports team, a summer home in Italy, and a private island or two!
Fraudsters target seniors because they’re more likely to have nest eggs and are less familiar with technology. Scammers may contact potential victims by telephone, in person or on the internet through email, Facebook and other messaging sites.
Don’t let scammers retire on your dollar. Learn more about these common scams and how you can avoid them.
12 Common Scams that Target Seniors
It’s hard to imagine that someone could prey on those who need medical assistance, but unfortunately, Medicare fraud is increasingly common. Scammers posing as Medicare representatives may trick elderly people into giving their information over the phone. Some even make false offers for free medical supplies or checkups that require the victim to provide their Medicare information and credit card number for supposed “shipping and handling fees.”
While stolen Social Security Numbers can be used for a host of crimes, one common way scammers use them is to unlawfully claim tax returns for themselves. Hackers can steal SSNs and IDs by creating false websites that look like the real thing, convincing the victim to enter their private information online. Crafty scammers may also trick victims into giving their information over the phone.
This common form of fraud involves stealing personal information in order to illegally use someone’s identity. This can be done over the phone or on the internet, and scammers may cobble together multiple victims’ information to create a false identity.
In today’s world, no one is safe from predatory criminals — not even grieving spouses and family members. These scammers read obituaries or attend strangers’ funerals to learn more about the surviving family of the deceased. Then, they prey on grieving widows or family members, claiming that their loved one has left behind an outstanding debt. They insist the debt needs to be paid and extort money from surviving family members.
Fake Virus Scanners
If you’ve ever seen a pop-up window telling you that your computer has a virus, then you’ve come close to this type of fraud. These pop-up windows are fake alerts that trick victims into downloading a “virus scanner.” However, these “scanners” are actually viruses that give criminals access to private information stored on their computer.
Because seniors are more likely to have a pot of retirement money or other savings, con artists often target them with phony investments that promise a big return. Investment scams may take the form of a pyramid scheme, a complex financial product, or a foreigner who is looking for a partner to claim inheritance money.
Scammers masquerading as utility workers may call or even show up in person to trick seniors into paying bills that don’t exist. They may wear utility workers’ uniforms and can even manipulate phone numbers to show your utility company’s caller ID. These fake bill collectors often threaten to turn off your utility service within an hour and demand immediate payment.
Seniors were raised in an era that valued politeness and good manners, but this makes them more vulnerable to fraud. Oftentimes, they are less likely to hang up the phone or simply say “no” to criminals pretending to be telemarketers or representatives of a company. There are many different types of telemarketing scams, which you can learn about here.
The Pigeon Drop
One of the oldest tricks in the book, the pigeon drop, can be done on the phone, in person or online. A con artist pretending that they have found a large sum of money says they are willing to split it with the victim, if the victim will make a “good faith” deposit. Usually a second con artist is involved who pretends to be a lawyer, banker or other trustworthy individual.
This trick plays on the victim’s heartstrings. Often occurring after a natural disaster, a criminal will call the victim pretending to be from a charity or relief organization. They will ask for a donation from the victim, as well as their bank account or credit card information, which they may use to steal even more funds.
The Family Member in Need
In this cruel scam, a con artist convinces their victim to wire money to help a family member who has had an accident and is in the hospital. Today, scammers can even hack into your loved one’s email or Facebook accounts and use them to message you and ask for money.
The Grandparent Scam
This is yet another scam in which a criminal pretends to be a family member in need. The con artist is usually a younger person who calls the victim and pretends to be their grandchild. They will often pretend to have an unexpected emergency that needs immediate funds, such as overdue rent, college payment, car repair, etc.
How to Tell if You’re Being Scammed
Whether it’s online or over the phone, here are some signs that you may be the target of a scammer.
A con artist may say…
- You need to “act now” or the offer will expire
- You’ve won a free prize, but you need to pay for shipping and handling (or other fees)
- You need to wire money or pay a debt with a gift card
- You need to handle payments (deposit funds for another person or forward money to someone else)
Or they may make unsolicited contact; that is, they contact you out of the blue to offer money or a prize.
A fake website…
- May pop-up in a new browser window
- Will not display the secure lock by the web address at the top of the page
- Will look a little “off” or different from how it usually looks
- Will have bad reviews on Google or other search engines, or no reviews at all
- May have typos or bad English
Tips for Avoiding Scams
Anyone can be a target of fraud, no matter their age. But with careful research and smart decision-making, you don’t have to be a victim.
- Take time to research whether companies, offers and unexpected debts are legitimate. Have a loved one help you.
- If a caller tells you to act immediately or does not give you time to research a company, they are probably a con artist.
- Be wary of unsolicited emails and phone calls from companies and people.
- If something seems strange about a phone call, simply say “No, thank you,” and hang up.
- Be careful of unusual emails or messages from family members. If a message contains a lot of typos or simply doesn’t sound like your loved one, it may be a hacker.
- Make sure websites are secure before entering private information. Here’s how to tell if a site is safe.
- Remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Want to learn more about how to keep your information and money secure? Check out the resources provided by the US Senate’s Special Committee on Aging.
If you believe you or your loved one has been contacted by a scammer, contact the Special Committee on Aging’s fraud hotline online or toll-free at 1-855-303-9470.