The National Council on Aging, the United States Department of Justice, the FBI, AARP, state attorneys general and many other organizations have been writing about senior scams and elder fraud for years, but unfortunately, older adults are still being bilked out of $3 billion each year due to a variety of scams. It’s so common, in fact, that elder exploitation is now considered the crime of the 21st century.
Why are our elders being targeted like this? In addition to having a ready source of assets/savings, many trusting and polite seniors still answer phone calls from unidentified callers, open junk mail instead of tossing it in the trash and aren’t as experienced as the younger generations are today in protecting their online accounts or recognizing the danger signs of scammers.
Some elderly folks also are isolated from their family members or friends, and may enjoy talking to people on the phone, or may even have some cognitive decline, making them especially vulnerable to exploitation. Don’t feel bad if it’s happened to you! Millions of people fall victim to scams every year. The fraudsters out there today have gotten so slick that even young, technically-savvy people are falling victim.
The following are a list of some of the top elder scams out there today. Please become familiar with them, and if you receive an unsolicited phone call, email or text from someone you don’t know asking for money, or access to your credit card or checking account, or they want you to purchase gift cards – stop, hang up, delete the text or email, and don’t engage. They are scammers!
- Medicare scams – A fraudster calls posing as a Medicare representative and asks you for your personal information (account numbers, Social Security number, medical information, etc.). He/she then takes the information you provide to bill Medicare, taking the payments for themselves.
- Funeral scams – A con artist contacts you after finding information about you from a spouse’s or loved one’s obituary, and claims that the deceased person owed him/her money. He/she then proceeds to extort money from you for these fake bills.
- Telemarketing scams – One of the most common scams out there is the “pigeon drop,” where the scammer tells you he has a large amount of money and is willing to split it with you if you make a “good faith” payment. The person then asks for your bank account number or credit card number. This might be an elaborate con with multiple people involved, including supposed lawyers, bankers or other officials available to back up the caller’s story (however, they’re all in on the con). Don’t fall for it! Another common scam is when someone is calling from a hospital or says they are out of state or out of the country. They tell you your loved one (a child or grandchild, typically) has had an accident or is in jail and needs you to send cash right away. They’ll ask you to wire money, send a check or even ask you to go out and get gift cards and have you read the numbers off the back of the cards.
- Internet scams – You’ve probably seen those flashy pop-up screens on the Internet with intriguing historical facts, outrageous stories or compelling pictures or special, almost-too-good-to-be-true offers. Well, trust your gut. They aren’t true. In fact, if you click on them, you could download malware or viruses onto your computer. Following this download, you may see a pop-up window offering to clean your computer and remove these viruses, but whoa! These so-called anti-virus software notices can also be viruses that can make your personal information available to scammers! Don’t fall for it. Another very common scam are “phishing” emails from what look like real legitimate companies asking you to verify or update your personal information. If you look closely at the email or check out the email address that the email came from, you’ll see that it’s not actually associated with that organization. Just delete these emails and don’t open or respond to them.
- Lottery/Sweepstakes Scams – A criminal calls you to say you’ve won a special prize or large amount of money, but before they can give it to you, they first need to collect a “nominal fee.” Guess what? Big surprise – the fees aren’t so nominal and you never receive your prize.
- COVID-19 Scams – There are multiple scammers at work right now advertising bogus cures and promoting testing scams. Don’t fall for them. Trust information from the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization or your own doctor.
- Grandparent Scams – This one is just egregious: A “kind” young person calls you and says, “Hi Grandma – Do you know who this is?” As he or she charms you and as you guess which grandchild the caller sounds most like, you just gave the caller all the information he or she needs to start tugging on your heart strings. The caller will ask for money and may even call multiple times to drain your bank account. One big giveaway to this scam is the caller will typically say something like, “Don’t tell my parents – they’d kill me.”
The IRS, Social Security, your bank, insurance company and the government will never contact you via email or phone to threaten you with jail if you don’t pay them, or ask for your personal information. They already have it. Don’t EVER give out your personal information (name/address, bank or credit card account numbers, Social Security number, or any other private information) unless you initiated the call/email, and you are sure the source is reputable. To know when you’re on a safe website, be sure to look at the address line and at the far left, if you see a small icon of a lock, then you are on a secure site and your information will remain private.
If you feel like you may be in danger at any time from a caller or you feel threatened, hang up immediately and contact your local police. Be sure to report any scams or fraud attempts – your report can help them get caught or at the very least, alert others to the scam. Stay safe out there!
Go here for additional information:
- National Council on Aging: https://www.ncoa.org/economic-security/money-management/scams-security/top-10-scams-targeting-seniors/
- U.S. Justice Dept.: https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/senior-scam-alert
- FBI: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/elder-fraud
- AARP: https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/
- FCC: https://www.fcc.gov/covid-scams
- Social Security: https://www.ssa.gov/antifraudfacts/
- Kiplinger’s: https://www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/retirement/t048-s002-6-scams-that-prey-on-the-elderly/index.html