Scam Alert/Fraud Alert for April
Scammers continue to target seniors on the phone, online, and through the mail with bogus offers or threats overpaying non-existing debts. While fraudsters take aim at people of all ages, scammers prey on seniors because they believe older adults have more money than the younger population.
Federal agencies and senior advocates are now encouraging older adults to be vigilant in the wake of an increase in financial scams related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Regardless of the type of scam perpetrated, seniors could become victims of identity theft, and lose large sums of money with slim chances of getting it back.
Be on the Lookout
Recognizing different types of scams—even when there are new twists to them— is one-way seniors can avoid falling into the clutches of fraudsters. The following are some of the most common scams perpetrated on seniors:
1. IRS Phone Scam
In this scam, an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) impersonator claims that the senior owes back taxes and must immediately pay the outstanding debt. The fake IRS agent says the person can pay the tax bill by providing personal banking information or pay with a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer.
The IRS contacts taxpayers by mail, and not via prerecorded phone calls. People who receive calls from IRS imposters should hang up immediately or not answer the phone at all when the caller ID shows, “Internal Revenue Service.”
2. IRS Stimulus Check Scam
The IRS is warning seniors, as well as other taxpayers, to ignore scammers who text, call, email, or contact them through social media about the $1,200 economic stimulus check. Scammers may ask seniors to verify their Social Security number and banking information to complete their stimulus payment. Releasing this information can lead to identity theft and tax-related fraud.
The IRS says the government does not require seniors, and those who are not required to file a tax return, to take any action to receive the $1,200 payment.
3. Robocall Scams
Robocalls have been a recurring problem prior to COVID-19, but they have become more frequent because of the pandemic. Seniors should ignore robocalls offering COVID-19 home testing kits or phony COVID-19 treatments or cures.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against buying any products that claim to treat or help to prevent COVID-19. There is no FDA-approved vaccine or medication to prevent or treat COVID-19.
4. Grandparent Scam
A frequently recurring scam involves someone purporting to be a grandchild stranded in another country whose passport and money was stolen in a robbery. The grandparent is asked to wire money immediately so the grandchild can return home. COVID-19 places a new twist on this old scam. A grandchild is purportedly in the hospital and needs money to pay for COVID-19 treatment.
Seniors should not send money or say their real grandchild’s name, but ask a personal question that only the grandchild can answer. Alternatively, older adults can hang up the phone and contact the child’s parent or other relative to verify the story.
5. Funeral Scams
Scammers prey on seniors who are in mourning after losing spouses. Fraudsters read obituaries and either attend a funeral service or call surviving spouses and claim that the deceased spouse owes them money, according to the FBI. Scammers attempt to extort money from the spouse or other relatives for the non-existent debt.
The FBI also advises seniors to watch out for shady funeral homes that take advantage of their lack of knowledge concerning costs for funeral services. Disreputable funeral directors overcharge customers or trick them into buying extra services that are not needed.
6. Bank/Paypal Scam
In this scam, fraudsters replicate a bank’s logo or PayPal icon and attaches it to an email that says an account has been suspended due to suspicious activity.
The email directs the account holder to click on a link or call to provide personal information to straighten out the matter. The scammer is actually stealing the person’s information. Account-holders can call their bank or PayPal to verify information about their accounts.
7. Counterfeit Prescription Medication
Unregulated online pharmacies allow buyers to purchase counterfeit drugs at a very low price without a valid prescription from a healthcare provider. The FDA warns that the counterfeit product may be harmful to the purchaser’s health.
Seniors searching for affordable prescription drugs should talk to their doctor or pharmacist before purchasing medication from an Internet drug supplier.
8. Tech Support Scam
Someone purporting to be a technical support representative from a legitimate software provider calls or sends an email to notify the computer owner of a non-existent software problem.
The scammer asks for remote access to the person’s computer to identify a non-existent software problem. The phony representative manipulates the computer to make it appear as if there is an actual problem. The scammer offers software that the computer owner can buy to remedy the problem.
Seniors should first deny a remote access request since scammers want to sell unnecessary software, steal a computer owner’s personal information, or install malware.
Older adults who have concerns about their software or want to uninstall software the scammer asked them to download should contact the real software company for help.
9. Romance Scam
Older adults are looking for love and fraudsters are looking to target them on online dating sites, in chat rooms, and on social networking sites. Scammers set up fake profiles, build relationships, and then start asking for money. An online interest who asks for money is “almost certainly a scam artist,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
10. Charity Scams
Scammers can change the caller ID to make it look as if it is a legitimate and familiar charity. The callers can also use names that sound like legitimate charities. While many people want to donate to help others in crisis, the Federal Trade Commission recommends doing research on the charity prior to making a phone or online donation.
Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, and the IRS Tax-Exempt Organization Search Tool are just a few of the many resources that help donors determine whether a nonprofit is legitimate.
Reporting a Scam
Older adults who believe they have fallen for a scam should talk to someone they trust about their experience, according to AARP. They can also contact AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360.