Millions of older Americans become victims of scams and financial fraud each year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Scammers tend to target seniors, in particular, because they assume that older adults have good credit, cash savings and a tendency to be trusting.
If you’re an older adult, be aware that scammers aren’t just after the cash in your wallet. Some are after your bank information to siphon off as many of your hard-earned dollars as they can. Others want to steal your credit card numbers then max out the plastic. People who get hold of your personal information may use it to apply for credit, receive medical care, sign up for unemployment in your name or even steal your tax refund by filing a fraudulent return.
To protect yourself, start by being aware of the common scams that target seniors. Knowing the red flags will help you steer clear of cons. Then take extra steps to guard your personal and account information from falling into the wrong hands.
[Read: How Seniors Can Protect Their Credit and Identity ]
Common scams targeting seniors
The Federal Trade Commission and the FBI note people aged 60 and over are more likely than younger adults to fall victim to these types of scams.
A fast-growing swindle is the romance scam, where swindlers trick older women and men into bogus relationships. Scammers aren’t just using social media websites to find victims; they’re also trolling in places such as online book clubs, game sites and even virtual prayer groups. Generally, they ask to chat via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or some other private setting, flatter their victims and promise to meet in person soon.
However, there’s always a reason they can’t meet, and, invariably, they ask for money, either to buy a plane ticket for the meet-up (which will never happen) or to deal with a medical emergency or short-term financial setback. Older adults lost $139 million to romance scams in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been another rich source for swindlers. Among other things, the FTC cracked down on vaccine scams, orders for disinfecting solutions that were never fulfilled, and products and supplements that were promised to prevent or cure coronavirus infection.
Government impersonation scams
Scammers claiming to be with the IRS, Social Security Administration or other government agencies will call about problems or “investigations.” Then they will ask for sensitive personal information or immediate payment through a wire transfer or gift card. Be aware that government agencies will not ask for payments over the phone or send emails demanding your personal information. They typically communicate by mail.
Tech support scams
Pretending to be computer specialists, thieves call and offer to “fix” problems that don’t actually exist. They will ask for a fee to repair the problem or ask for remote access to your computer in an effort to see sensitive information you might have stored on it.
Charity and sweepstakes scams
Claiming to represent legitimate charities and capitalizing on current events such as natural disasters, scammers ask for donations made with gift cards or wire transfers. Or they claim that you have won a lottery or sweepstakes prize and must send a fee to collect your prize.
Scammers call, e-mail or instant-message potential victims, pretending to be a grandchild or other relative in a financial crisis. Then they will ask for money through a wire transfer or gift card and caution victims not to tell anyone about their situation.
Home repair scams
Swindlers offer to do home improvement jobs, asking for money upfront. Then they’re never seen again.
Avoiding senior scams
Take the following steps to avoid scams and to protect your personal information from thieves:
- Don’t be afraid to hang up on unknown callers who ask for personal information or demand immediate payment. Scammers typically ask for a payment with a gift card or by making a wire transfer.
- Use a call blocking service to reduce the number of spam calls you get. Major wireless carriers such as AT&T and Verizon offer their own apps with free and paid versions. There also are third-party call-blocking apps such as Hiya and Nomorobo.
- Don’t respond to e-mails or texts from unknown sources. Clicking on a link might expose you to a virus, or take you to a phishing site that wants to get your personal information. Keep in mind that scammers may spoof e-mail addresses or use corporate logos to make their e-mails look official. Instead of clicking, look for the website or phone number and contact them directly.
- Resist high-pressure tactics to act immediately, even if the request is coming from a seemingly legitimate organization. Take time to research the organization or investment that is being sold.
- Be wary when shopping online. Web addresses should begin with “https” and have padlock symbols to indicate security.
- Avoid deals that seem too good to be true. Clicking on the link for that unbelievable steal could send you to a scammer’s website. Search the offer plus the word “reviews,” “complaint” or “scam” and see if other people have reported this as fraudulent. (Pro tip: The safest way to avoid being ripped off is to shop at legitimate retail websites.)
- Don’t over-share on social media. Putting too much information online is a big help to potential scammers. These include things such as date of birth, maiden name, the city where you grew up, and the name of your high-school mascot. Avoid those memes and quizzes that collect private information, such as your first pet’s name or the street you lived on as a kid. These are common password hints.
Take advantage of technology to guard against fraud
It’s possible to check your bank and credit card accounts regularly for unusual transactions that could be signs of scams and fraud. The fact is that most people don’t do these things. They put them off, forget to do them or, maybe, don’t realize that they can—and should—keep tabs on their personal finances. Signing up for a monitoring service is a simple way to keep an eye on your money.
Besides, no matter how cautious you are, data breaches may occur. A service such as Carefull monitors the Internet to guard against misuse of both your credit and personal information. If your identity is compromised, you can get up to $1 million in ID theft insurance coverage.
Getting an alert that either your credit or identity have been stolen lets you take steps to prevent greater damage. You can immediately contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to freeze your credit so no one can commit further fraud.
[ Keep Reading: How to Protect Your Identity Online ]