Senior Scams: “The most common scams”
Scammers like to prey on older adults, and seniors suffer serious financial losses when they fall for fraudulent schemes. Older adults can protect themselves from becoming victims by knowing the most common scams targeting seniors.
Older adults are consistently falling prey to scams, and the consequences are costly. In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported 92,371 older adults were victims of fraud, resulting in $1.7 billion in losses, a 74 percent increase in losses compared to 2020.
Scammers go after people over 60 years old because they believe this population has money and is less likely to report a crime, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). The NCOA explains that financial schemes are tough to prosecute and are viewed as “low-risk” crimes. But seniors pay a high price for these crimes, both financially and emotionally, because they are limited in their ability to recover their losses.
If you’re a senior and wondering how you can protect yourself, you can arm yourself with knowledge by recognizing the five signs of a scam:
1. Scammers contact you first
When you contact an individual or business, you know who’s on the other end. However, when a scammer calls first, you don’t know for sure if they are who they say they are. Keep in mind that email addresses and caller ID information can be faked.
2. Scammers use bait—usually money—to lure you
Like using bait to lure a fish, scammers dangle financial offers—a big prize, a shopping spree, easy loans—to lure you into their fraud.
3. Scammers want your personal information
Scammers ask for your bank account number, your Social Security number, and other types of personal information. Don’t give it away quickly or easily, especially to someone you don’t know. You may become a victim of identity theft.
4. Scammers want payment first
Scammers offer financial prizes, debt relief, an inheritance, or a work-from-home opportunity but want you to pay them first before you get whatever they are offering. Do not pay anything to receive something from someone you do not know.
5. Scammers want you to wire money or send gift cards
Scammers usually ask for payment by wiring money or sending gift cards in order for you to receive a prize or pay off a debt collector. These are only a few ways that scammers try to take your money.
Most Common Scams Targeting Seniors
1. Computer Tech Support Scam
How it works: You’re on your computer, and a screen pops up out of nowhere saying that your computer has a virus and you can lose all of your data. The message is allegedly from a reputable company like Microsoft or an antivirus company. The message says the problem can be fixed if you allow a tech support person to access your computer or pay the company a sum of money. If you allow access to your computer, the scammer can scan your computer for personal or financial information, add malware to infect your computer or add spyware so they can get your information in the future.
How to avoid this scam: Do not give anyone access to your computer. Exit the Internet, turn off your computer, then restart it.
2. IRS or Government Imposter Scams
How it works: You get a call or an email from someone impersonating an IRS agent who claims that you owe back taxes and must immediately pay up or else the police will arrest you and put you in jail. You might also get a call from someone claiming to be from Social Security Administration, saying there is a problem with your Social Security number or account. The caller asks you to pay a fine or debt with gift cards, wire transfers, pre-paid debit cards, Internet currency, or by mailing cash.
How to avoid this scam: If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from a government agency, hang up. Do not give the caller any personal or financial information or send cash for payments of debts you do not owe. The IRS does not call you with threats of immediate imprisonment. The IRS will contact you through the mail if you actually owe back taxes. What’s more, Social Security will only contact you if you have asked the agency to call or have ongoing business with the agency.
3. The Grandparent Scam
How it works: Seniors are contacted by the scammer claiming to be their grandchild who is in jail, in the hospital, in a serious vehicle accident, or in some other distressful situation. The scammer will then ask the senior to resolve the situation by using a wire transfer to send money or buying gift cards and reading off the card’s information, or dropping off cash at a particular location.
How to avoid this scam: Do not react to the caller’s distressed voice. Ask the caller questions that only your actual grandchild would know how to answer. Then, verify the caller’s claim by calling a family member who knows where your grandchild is and who can also contact the grandchild.
4. Online Romance Scams
How it works: Scammers post fake profiles with attractive photos on online dating sites in order to strike up a romantic relationship with someone. Over time, scammers will ask their victims to send them money or invest in a business proposition. In 2021, individuals reported losing $1.3 billion to romance scams alone, more losses than in any other fraud category of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). While people of all ages reported losing money to romance scams, the median losses for victims over 70 were $9,000, compared to $750 for those ages 18 to 29, according to FTC data.
How to avoid this scam: If you develop a relationship online, the U.S. Secret Service advises you to:
1. Research the person’s photo and profile
2. Ask questions; when people seem too good to be true, they probably are.
3. If asked, do not send inappropriate photos, financial information, or cash to people you meet online and have never met in person.
4. Be suspicious if the person never shows up after multiple attempts to meet in person.
How to Report Fraud
If you have been the victim of an online fraud, you can do the following:
• Gather your information and documents and contact your local law enforcement agency.
• File an online fraud complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov
• To report a confidence fraud/romance scam, contact the dating app or social media platform. Then, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
• To learn more about fraud involving Social Security or to report a fraud, go to https://www.ssa.gov/scam.