Ask anyone you know and they’ll probably tell you that someone has tried to scam them in the past few months. It’s become so commonplace that it barely fazes us anymore. However, you might find it disturbing to know that last year Americans lost almost 9 billion to scams. Even though the overall number of scams slightly decreased, the amount of money individual victims lost increased. Too many of those being scammed belong to our senior population. “While a smaller percentage of older people report being victims of scams than younger people, they tend to lose far more money to these crimes,” according to a 2023 article published by AARP. This information comes from just what is reported and could be far worse than we know because people are often too embarrassed to admit they have been duped.
So why do senior citizens get targeted? There seems to be several motives for victimizing the elderly population. Many scammers think that older Americans have plenty of money - more bang for their buck than a 2o something - no pun intended. The problem is that isn’t always true. Many seniors are on a tight budget and live off social security. These thieves also count on being able to tug on victims’ heartstrings or scare them into compliance with their requests for money. Then there’s the assumption that the elderly may not be tech savvy or mentally sound enough to detect a scam. Whatever the motive, the practice of scamming is despicable.
One of the best ways to protect yourself is with awareness - keeping up with the latest scams and knowing where to turn for help. Below, I’ve listed some of the most common scams being run. This is not an exhaustive list, and each scam has many versions.
Computer Technology Support Scams: You get a pop-up message on your computer or a call from an unknown number, often claiming to be from Norton, Apple, Microsoft, etc., saying your computer has a virus or is in need of some urgent update. The trick is that you need to give them a credit card number so they can update your system or fix the problem. Urgency and scare tactics are used to pressure victims into making a quick decision they will later regret.
Medicare Scam: Someone contacts you and claims to be from Medicare and will say they need your Medicare ID number in order to offer you services. Medicare does not contact clients about personal information without consent. When in doubt, hang up and call the phone number on your Medicare card to verify. Never call a number you were called from, a number on a piece of mail, or a number emailed to you.
Robocall Scam: Never say, “yes”! You receive a call and someone asks if you can hear them. When you say “yes,” technology allows scammers to record your voice. Your response is then used as a verbal authorization for unwanted charges.
Romance Scam: People of all ages are looking for love and turn to online dating. The scammer sets up an enticing fake profile - often pretending to be overseas - and begins a “relationship” with the victim. They eventually start asking for money for medical expenses, a place ticket to come visit, or any number of things. This may go on for an extended period of time.
Prescription and Anti-Aging Scam: Access to cheap prescriptions and health products can be a real concern for many seniors, so finding a good offer can be appealing. Once you pay the scammer, no product arrives. Even worse, you may receive a counterfeit product and that can be extremely dangerous.
Phishing Tests and Emails Scam: You receive an email from what appears to be a legitimate company or government agency asking for bank and/or other personal information. Text messages will often ask you to click a link. Once they have your information, they start draining accounts, applying for credit cards, etc. The key is to remember that the IRS and government agencies do not send emails about your personal information. Your best bet is to not respond, not click any links, and call the IRS from a number you know belongs to them.
Grandchild Scam: The scammer will call you and pretend to be your grandchild. They will say something like, “Granddad, do you know who this is?’ Unwittingly, most people then provide the name of the grandkid it most sounds like. The scammer then proceeds to ask for money for something urgent like bail, getting a car out of the impound lot, etc. Before sending any money, please verify that this is actually your relative.
Obituary Scam: The con artist obtains death information from local obituaries. They often call the family demanding money for unpaid debts or bills. In another version, the scammer comes to the house asking for payment for a fake cash on delivery package.
Social Security Scam: You receive what appears to be an official call from the federal government saying your SSN was used in a crime. They claim you need to pay money to fix the issue or the police will be there shortly to arrest you.
Lottery and Prize Scam: The scammer calls and tells you you’ve won money or some other prize, but says you have to pay a certain amount of money to cover taxes, shipping and handling, or other fees in order to receive your winnings.
So what do you do if you think you have been scammed? Don’t be embarrassed. It can happen to anyone. The best thing you can do is to stay as calm as possible so you can think clearly. There are several ways to report fraud and seek assistance. You may first want to call your banking institution. Next, consider calling the local police department and filing an official report. Listed below are some additional resources:
Federal Trade Commission (TC): reportfraud.ftc.gov
FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: IC3.gov
AARP Fraud Watch Network: 1877.908.3360
Adult Protective Services Eldercare Locator: 800.677.1116 https//eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx
Ianzito, Christina. “Americans Lost Record-Breaking $8.8 Billion to Scams in 2022.” AARP, AARP, 28 Feb. 2023, aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2023/ftc-consumer-losses.html. Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.
“Nooa.org.” Ww38.Nooa.org, www.nooa.org/article/top-5-financial-scams-targeting-older-adults. Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.
Tzanetos, Georgina. “11 Common Senior Scams: Examples and How to Avoid Them.” Bankrate, 20 June 2022, www.bankrate.com/retirement/costly-scams-that-target-seniors/. Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.