Elderly Scam Fraud Alert
Imagine that you ordered a COVID-19 rapid test kit online from a company that you never heard of before and never received the product. Or, how would you feel if the “friend” you met online a few weeks ago drained your bank account?
These are not just hypothetical examples but real-life scams perpetrated against thousands of older adults every day. Fraudsters often target people 60 years old and older because they are believed to be trusting and polite, and have significant financial resources and good credit, according to the FBI.
In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 105,301 complaints from people 60 and over with total losses in excess of $966 million, a 15 percent increase over the $835 million in losses older adults reported in 2019.
Older adults report a wide range of fraud committed against them, from romance scams to government impersonation scams to investment fraud schemes. Some of the most common scams reported by older adults include:
1. COVID-19-Related Fraud
As the coronavirus spread throughout the country, so did scams involving COVID-19. One scam involves fraudsters posing as contact tracers to steal the identity of seniors.
Legitimate contact tracers call people who have been exposed to COVID-19 to confirm their name, address, and birthday. But, legitimate contact tracers already have this information so, seniors do not need to provide it to them, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says.
Scammers, however, contact seniors through robocalls and bogus texts and ask them to verify their identity by providing personal information, such as a Social Security number, a credit card number, or bank account information. Some scammers even ask for payment.
The FTC advises seniors not to give their Social Security number or financial information, and not to click on links or download anything sent from someone purporting to be a contact tracer.
Besides contact tracing, fraudsters also promote online advertisements or send emails for bogus COVID-19 rapid home test kits. The kits either do not arrive or arrive but have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their safety and effectiveness. Either way, the scammers have a buyer’s name, address, and credit card number.
Before purchasing a COVID-19 test kit from an unknown company, the FTC recommends checking out the seller before making a purchase, comparing online reviews for the product, and making sure the test is authorized by the FDA.
2. Medical Identity Theft
Seniors have reported getting a bill from a medical provider for a procedure that was never performed on them. That’s because scammers are stealing Social Security and Medicare numbers, and health insurance account numbers, and using the stolen information to see a doctor, undergo a procedure or get prescription drugs, according to the FTC.
Not only that, but fraudsters use the personal information they have stolen to buy medical devices and even submit claims with insurance companies.
As a result, medical identity theft victims are having enormous financial and credit issues because of the bills submitted in their name, cybersecurity expert Adam Levin, and founder of Cyberscout, said in an interview with Yahoo Life.
The FTC recommends reviewing your Explanation of Benefits, medical bills, and all other health insurance records and reporting any errors to your insurance company.
3. The Grandparent Scam
The Grandparent scam is one of the most common frauds reported. The scheme goes like this: A senior answers the phone and the scammer pretends to be the senior’s grandchild and says something like: “Grandma: I have COVID and I’m in the hospital, I need money to pay my bill, please wire money right away.”
Seniors are alarmed because they believe their grandchild is in danger. The scammer will then give the grandparent instructions on how to wire money to resolve the crisis.
According to Levin, the scammer will only say, “Grandma,” or “Grandpa” but won’t say the grandchild’s actual name in hopes that the grandparent will instinctively say the grandchild’s name. So, now, the scammer knows the name to use.
The FTC advises grandparents to resist the urge to act immediately and
verify your grandchild’s identity by asking questions that a stranger could not possibly know. Above all, do not send cash, gift cards, or money transfers.
4. Tech Support Scams
Technology scams have been around for years, but like other fraud, these schemes increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is mostly due to people working from home and older adults using computers to stay in touch with relatives and friends or do other online activities.
Scammers will either send a pop-up message to a computer or use robocalls to find victims. Either way, the scammer claims to be a representative from Microsoft or Apple who noticed a problem with a user’s computer. The scammers persuade the user to give them access to their computer or direct the user to go to a particular site and click on a link so the scammer can gain access to the computer.
Levin says tech support scammers can then hijack the computer and steal the user’s sensitive information or monitor their activity using keystroke logging. Scammers might even ask users for their credit card information to bill for their “services.”
Computer users are advised to purchase expert tech support from legitimate U.S.-based companies or purchase antivirus software that prevents security threats to a computer.
5. Befriending Strangers Online
Strangers connect online every day, whether it’s sharing cute photos of puppies on a social media site or establishing a relationship on a dating site. Unfortunately, older adults may become victims of “catfishers.” A catfisher is a person who creates a fake persona to establish a relationship with someone in order to get money or gifts or steal the person’s identity.
When it comes to older adults, scammers can tell if seniors are lonely by scanning their social media posts and use them to their advantage, Levin says. For example, a catfishers can send photos of pets after discovering that the senior loves pets. The catfishers, Levin said, will bury malware in the code of the picture.
Once the older adult clicks on the photo, ransomware or a keystroke logger are placed on the computer. The scammer can then steal the user’s personal information and open accounts, drain bank accounts, get medical benefits, or steal anything else they want, Levin says.
Computer users are advised to install antivirus software that can remove viruses and malware detected on the computer.
If you believe you have been a victim of a scam, report the fraud to your local FBI field office or to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.