Scamming has been coined “the crime of the 21st century” and it can happen to anyone. Unfortunately, senior citizens are a top target for scammers due to the perception of them having more wealth or being less likely to report the crime. Scammers have gotten increasingly creative and realistic, and scams targeting seniors are on the rise. In 2021, there were 92,371 older victims of fraud resulting in $1.7 billion in losses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
It is important to always be wary of scams, but seniors specifically are one of their main targets and they craft special tactics to target them. Financial crimes against seniors can be devastating, often leaving victims with no way to recover their losses. We will cover common scams and how to avoid them.
Health care scam
“Senior citizens are most vulnerable to health care scams, according to Tod Burke, former associate dean, and professor of criminal justice at Radford University in Virginia. Burke says scammers will call as health care or Medicare representatives to gain access to seniors’ personal or contact information.”
They will use their contact information to call back later and say they spoke with a family member and that it’s OK to give them Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or other personal information. Scammers might also offer help getting seniors medical insurance.
In many cases, they use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money, according to the National Council on Aging.
Scammers will call seniors pretending to be a grandchild or great grandchild and try to get money, before paying them, make sure the person is an actual family member.
A scammer will place a call to a senior citizen and when the senior picks up, the scammer will say something like: “Hi, Grandma. Do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of a grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity. Once they establish a relationship, they ask for money.
Phishing is the use of fake emails or websites appearing to be real to steal personal information. A scammer will send an email looking almost identical to a government or bank email, requesting personal information like Social Security numbers and bank account information. The IRS states that their investigators have seen a “tremendous increase in phishing schemes” utilizing emails, letters, texts, and links since 2020 to steal personal information.
The IRS stresses it never initiates contact with taxpayers via email about their accounts. If you see an email from the IRS, or any company or agency requesting your personal information, delete it immediately — and do not click on any links.
If you feel uneasy, simply call your local IRS office, government agency, or bank on your own to check the legitimacy of the email or website.
There are different types of phone scams targeting seniors, including robocalls that offer free medical supplements, devices, or discounts. As well as the grandchild scam previously mentioned, scammers will also claim to be an IRS employee or threatening time limits and repercussions. But if you respond, you may be tricked or pressured into sharing your address, personal information, and a credit card number. The scammers can then use these stolen credentials to commit credit card fraud or steal a senior’s identity.
Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams often start with a popup or online advertisement warning on your computer or phone that the device is infected or vulnerable. If clicked, it may then prompt a program install, update, or new software, which turns out to be malicious software that can take over your device or steal personal information.
In a different twist, the scam will prompt you to call tech support for help—but the tech support person could trick you into giving them control of your computer. Or they may tell you that you need to pay for additional protection, support, or an upgrade.
Funeral & Cemetery Scams
The FBI warns about two types of funeral and cemetery scams targeted at seniors.
The first type is when scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a stranger to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower. Claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them, scammers will attempt to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debts.
Second type is disreputable funeral homes will try and capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the considerable cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill.
An example and common scam of this type is funeral directors will insist that a casket, usually one of the most expensive funeral costs, is necessary even when performing a direct cremation, which can be accomplished with a cardboard casket rather than an expensive display or burial casket.
Scammers have gotten increasingly savvy with their tactics, conning unsuspecting seniors out of their hard-earned money. It is crucial to remember that government agencies and most companies will typically not contact you for your personal information or ask for money and payment methods over the phone without you knowing about it beforehand. By staying vigilant, and knowing what to look for, you can prevent yourself and loved ones from falling victim to a scam.
How to Avoid Senior Scams
While scammers often use different and multiple tactics when targeting victims, a few basic practices can help keep you safe. Share these with friends and family members as well, as they can help protect people of all ages:
Be wary of anything that seems too good. Free medical care or a wealthy love interest can all seem great, but if it seems unrealistic, you may want to step back and reevaluate and take a critical look and use precautions like asking someone’s opinion. It is always better safe than sorry.
Watch out for unknown and suspicious incoming communications. Scammers have the ability to make phone calls and emails look like they're coming from legitimate companies and government organizations. It is a best practice to ignore and look up the phone number or organization's contact information, initiating the exchange yourself is a safer option.
Extra security is always a good idea. Many online accounts let you turn on multifactor authentication, meaning you need to enter a code that's sent to your phone or email, or that you generate with an app, before accessing your account. Enabling this extra security measure can keep scammers out of your accounts even if they get hold of your username and password.
Avoid odd payment types, this is a major red flag and warning signal. Scammers will often ask you to send them money with a wire transfer, money order, cryptocurrency, payment app or gift card.
Scams are specially designed to deceive us and catch us off guard. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you think you’re a victim. Keep handy the phone numbers of resources that can help, including the local police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts), and Adult Protective Services. We will provide contact information for the East Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability below.
You can also report scams online to the FTC on ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Sharing your experience can help prevent it from happening to another older adult. Depending on what happened, you may also want to file a police report or get a personalized recovery plan from the FTC using IdentityTheft.gov.
East Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability: https://www.ethra.org/programs/45/area-agency-on-aging-and-disability/
Office Phone: 865-691-2551
Information Phone: 866-836-6678
Contact Email: email@example.com