While there are many joys to getting older, being the target of scams certainly is not one of them. These scams can come in many forms, including online, over the phone, through the mail, and even in person.
In 2021, there were more than 92,000 older victims of fraud, resulting in $1.7 billion in losses, according to the National Council on Aging.
The most common of these cons are financial, in which criminals target older people via government impersonation, sweepstakes, and robocall scams.
Scammers not only target older people because they think they have large sums of money in the bank but also because they assume that older people are not as familiar with modern technology and scamming tactics.
“Studies show that senior citizens are targeted and experience fraud more than any other demographic,” Mel Leonard, an educational foundation manager with the Better Business Bureau, told the Tri-City Times. “There are a lot of predators out there who prey on seniors. These scam artists know just the right buttons to push to create a sense of urgency on the part of our seniors.”
The most common scams
Fraudsters are always coming up with new ploys, but there are some scams that are tried-and-true and all too prevalent. Here are a few of the most common financial scams that target older adults.
The grandparent scam
This devious plan plays on the heartstrings of the victim. The scammer pretends to be a person’s grandchild and then explains that he is in a financial bind and needs money urgently (for something like jail bond, car repairs, or an overdue bill). Con artists will ask the person to pay via wire transfer or ask the victim to read off credit card information. Once the money is transferred, it can be very difficult to recoup lost funds.
Government imposter scams
In these cases, con artists pretend to be from the IRS, Social Security, or Medicare. They may say the victim’s Social Security or Medicare benefits will be cut off if they don’t give personal identifying information. Or they may claim the person has unpaid taxes and threaten arrest or deportation if they don’t immediately give their personal information, which can then be used for identity theft. These con artists often use caller ID “spoofing” technology to make the call appear to be coming from Washington, D.C.
Lottery and sweepstakes scams
Good news! You won the lottery or sweepstakes! All you have to do is send money to cover the supposed taxes and processing fees. Of course, the lottery winnings never arrive. Unfortunately, scammers will sometimes target the same person multiple times, stealing thousands of dollars before the victim realizes it’s a hoax.
These scams involve con men calling a Medicare beneficiary and claiming to be Medicare representatives. They may offer a (fake) discount on coverage or explain that you need a new card. They will then ask for personal and medical information.
It’s important to note that nobody from Medicare or Social Security will ever call you unless you specifically requested them to. All communication is via U.S. mail, which is why it’s so important to keep your address up to date with the Social Security Administration. Learn how to do that here.
For these scams, a person will pretend to be calling from a well-known charity and then solicit donations from the unsuspecting victim. They will sometimes use current events (like a natural disaster) to urge the person to act quickly and give away their personal financial data.
The above are some of the most common scams. Being familiar with how they operate may help keep you from falling for them.
Tips to stay safe from scammers
While scammers are getting more and more savvy, there are a lot of steps you can take to protect yourself and loved ones from these crimes.
Trust your gut
It’s an age-old piece of advice, but a good one. If something feels off, it’s okay to investigate further before pulling out your wallet.
Do not reveal personal information
Fraudsters are looking for your personal identifying details, along with your financial information, like your credit card numbers, Social Security number, account numbers, and more. Do not give out this information to anyone unless you originated the call and are 100% sure you know who you’re talking to.
Don’t act quickly
A lot of times, these scams succeed because of their sense of urgency. Take a beat. Take a breath. And take a little extra time to evaluate the situation before acting on anything.
Ask a trusted family member or friend
If you think something sounds suspicious, get the opinion of someone you trust. It’s okay to ask for guidance when you’re feeling unsure!
Avoid strange links
Don’t click on any links that come in an unsolicited email, text, or message on social media.
Keep passwords updated
Whether it’s your online banking account or your email, be sure to update your passwords regularly. And avoid using the same password for different accounts.
What to do next
Scams that target older adults are considered a form of elder abuse. This can happen to anyone, so If you feel you’ve been the victim of a scam, don’t be ashamed to call the elder abuse hotline in your state to report the crime. And if you feel unsafe, be sure to call 911 or the local police.