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  • Writer's pictureCindy Davis

Smart Responses to Senior Scam Threats


Elderly woman in shock looking at her phone

It’s easy to dismiss scam warnings until it hits close to home. Imagine this: an aide overseeing the care of your elderly loved one overhears a suspicious phone call. They intervene quickly, but not before personal details are shared, leading to fraudulent activities like issuing unauthorized credit card applications. This story isn’t unique.

The Rapidly Growing Senior Scam Threat

Graphic of scammer

If you're a senior, or caring for an elderly loved one, it's crucial to recognize the significant and growing threat of financial scams. The statistics from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2022 paint an eyepopping picture of the challenges seniors face today. Last year alone, the total losses reported by elderly victims spiked by an astonishing 84% from the previous year.

 

Scammers specifically target seniors because they often have substantial retirement savings or access to larger sums of money through inheritances. In 2022, elderly victims reported a staggering total of $3.1 billion in losses due to fraudulent activities. To put this into perspective, the average financial loss per victim over 60 was $35,101, with thousands losing more than $100,000 each. This kind of financial hit can devastate your retirement plans or drain the resources meant to support you through your golden years.


Graphic of file folder with money, cards, and password being hooked

The most common scams reported involve Tech and Customer Support schemes and Government Impersonation, which together accounted for over $1 billion in losses. Investment frauds reported by seniors over 60 also saw a dramatic increase, with losses surging over 300%. Such statistics underscore the sophisticated methods scammers use to exploit the elderly, often leading victims to make drastic decisions like remortgaging homes or emptying retirement accounts to cover losses.

 

Moreover, nearly half of the scam victims aged 60 and above suffered 69% of the total financial losses reported, with some seniors even losing more than $1 million to these ruthless frauds. These scams not only threaten your financial security but also your ability to live independently and maintain a quality life.

 

Why Seniors Are Prime Targets for Scams—But No One Is Immune

 

While seniors are often prime targets for financial scams due to their potentially substantial retirement savings and access to inheritances, it's essential to recognize that scammers do not discriminate by age. Research shows that individuals of all ages, financial statuses, and educational backgrounds can fall victim to scams. These fraudsters are professionals who hone their skills in deception every day, engaging in a relentless "dialing for dollars" scheme to exploit anyone with their guard down.

 

Seniors are particularly vulnerable because they may be less likely to report fraud, often due to embarrassment, unawareness of whom to contact, or the belief that nothing can be done to recover their losses. However, the methods used by scammers are designed to manipulate human psychology, tapping into emotions like fear, excitement, or the sense of urgency, making even the savviest individuals susceptible under the right circumstances. This reality underscores the importance of vigilance for everyone, regardless of age.

What are the four most common scams targeting seniors?

Scammers continuously refine their strategies to create very convincing scams—they are persistent, persuasive, and patient, making it critical for all of us to stay alert. By understanding that anyone can be targeted and by knowing the red flags and steps to protect oneself, you can better guard against the financial and emotional damage caused by these nefarious activities.

1.Government Impersonator Scams

Graphic of government buildings money and scammer

How the Scam Works

Government impersonator scams involve fraudsters pretending to be officials from various government agencies, such as the IRS, Social Security Administration, or Medicare. These scammers typically contact seniors through phone calls, emails, or mail, claiming there is an urgent issue that requires immediate attention. Common claims include problems with the senior's Social Security number, unpaid taxes, or other legal issues that supposedly require payment to resolve.


Communication Red Flags

  • Urgency. The scammer insists on immediate action, often threatening legal consequences, fines, or arrest if you do not comply quickly.

  • Requests for Personal Information. They ask for sensitive personal details such as your Social Security number, bank account information, or credit card numbers.

  • Payment Methods. Scammers often request payment via unconventional methods such as gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency, which are not standard for legitimate government transactions.

  • Caller ID Spoofing. The caller ID might show a legitimate government number, but this can be faked—a technique known as "spoofing."

2. Fake Quiz, Sweepstakes, and Lottery Scams

Graphic of lucky clover with and an "x" over it and a scammer

How the Scam Works

Fake quiz, sweepstakes, and lottery scams often start with an unexpected phone call, email, or mail piece informing you that you've won a large sum of money or a fabulous prize in a contest you don't remember entering. To claim your prize, the scammer will insist that you need to pay a fee upfront for taxes, processing charges, or legal costs.


Communication Red Flags

  • Unexpected Prize Notifications. You receive a notification for a prize from a sweepstakes or lottery you did not enter.

  • Requests for Fees. You are asked to pay fees before receiving your prize. Legitimate sweepstakes and lotteries do not ask winners to pay to receive their prizes.

  • Pressure Tactics. Scammers pressure you to act quickly before you have the chance to think it through or discuss it with family or advisors.

  • Overly Official Appearances. The communication may use official-seeming logos, seals, and names that mimic real organizations to convince you of their authenticity.

3. Computer Tech Scams


Graphic of scammer looking at screen with virus malware

How the Scam Works

Computer tech scams usually begin with an unsolicited phone call, email, or popup message alerting you that your computer has a serious virus or security issue. The scammer, pretending to be from a reputable tech company like Microsoft or Apple, offers to fix the problem for a fee and requests remote access to your computer. Once they have access, they can install malware, steal sensitive information, or lock you out of your computer to demand a ransom.


Communication Red Flags

  • Unsolicited Tech Support Calls. Genuine tech companies do not make unsolicited calls to help fix your computer.

  • Urgent Security Warnings. Scammers use scare tactics, claiming your computer is infected with a virus or has serious technical problems.

  • Requests for Remote Access. Any request to take control of your computer or to download software should be treated with extreme caution.

  • Demands for Immediate Payment. Scammers may ask for credit card information over the phone or urge you to purchase gift cards to pay for the repair services.

4. Grandparent Scams

Graphic of scammer impersonating grandchild

How the Scam Works

The Grandparent scam preys on the emotions of older adults by pretending to be a grandchild or another family member in distress. Scammers often call unexpectedly, claiming they are in a serious situation like being arrested, hospitalized, or stranded in a foreign country, and urgently need money. They may plead for secrecy, asking you not to tell other family members to avoid embarrassment or supposedly to not complicate legal issues.


Communication Red Flags

  • Unexpected Urgent Requests for Money. Be suspicious of urgent and unexpected calls requesting money, especially if it's for an emergency you can't confirm.

  • Caller Pretending to Be a Relative. Scammers may not sound like your relative due to a supposed injury or bad connection.

  • Requests for Secrecy. Scammers often stress secrecy, asking you not to contact other family members or friends.

  • Specific Payment Methods. They may insist on immediate payment through unconventional methods like gift cards, wire transfers, or cash apps.

What to Do if You Realize You're in a Scam Call

Infographic to avoid senior scam threats

General Actions

  1. Stay Calm and Verify. Always remain calm and verify the information. Ask detailed questions that only the genuine person or company would know. Don't use any contact details provided by the caller—find the official numbers yourself.

  2. Hang Up and Call Back. If you suspect a scam, hang up immediately. Then, contact the person or company the caller claimed to represent by using a trusted number from official correspondence or their official website.

  3. Resist Pressure. Scammers thrive on creating urgency to bypass your better judgment. Resist any pressure to act quickly, regardless of the story they tell.

  4. Report the Scam. Inform the Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-372-8311, your local police, the Attorney General of Your State, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about the call. Reporting helps authorities track and stop scammers and prevents others from falling victim.

  5. Educate Yourself and Others. Share your experience with friends and family. Awareness is one of the best ways to prevent scams. Discuss common scam tactics and encourage skeptical responses to unexpected requests for money or information.

Scam Specific Actions

  • Government Impersonator Scams. Verify any alleged issue by calling the agency directly. Government agencies typically do not call to demand immediate payment or personal information over the phone.

  • Fake Quiz, Sweepstakes, and Lottery Scams. Remember, legitimate lotteries or contests do not ask winners to pay fees upfront. If you haven't entered it, you can't win it.

  • Computer Tech Scams. Legitimate tech companies will not contact you unsolicited to fix an issue. Never allow remote access to your computer to a caller claiming to be tech support.

  • Grandparent Scams. Always verify a distress call purportedly from a family member directly with that person or through other family members. Do not act on the information until you have absolute confirmation.


By adopting these practices, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to a scam and protect not only your assets but also your personal information. Remember, awareness and skepticism are your best defenses against scams.

How to Protect Yourself from Senior Scams

Protecting yourself from scams, particularly those targeting seniors, requires proactive measures and awareness. Here are enhanced steps you can take to safeguard your personal and financial information:

1. Educate Yourself and Loved Ones

  • Stay updated on the most common scams by visiting reputable websites such as the Federal Trade Commission or AARP. They regularly publish information on new scam trends and how to avoid them.

  • Discuss these scams in family meetings, especially with elderly members who may be less aware of such schemes. Sharing personal experiences or stories from trusted sources can help illustrate the risks and tactics used by scammers.

2. Monitor Your Financial Accounts

  • Sign up for transaction alerts from your bank or credit card issuer to receive notifications of unusual activity immediately.

  • Regularly review your account statements and look for any unauthorized transactions. Quick detection can lead to faster resolution with your financial institution.

3. Verify Requests for Money or Information

  • Always verify the legitimacy of requests by contacting the organization directly through official contact details you find on their website or official correspondence—not through any contact information provided by a suspicious caller or email.

  • Be skeptical of any requests made over the phone or through email, especially those that require immediate action or payment.

Elderly couple with piggy bank and secure shield

4. Secure Your Personal Information

  • Use strong, unique passwords for different accounts and consider a password manager to keep track of them securely.

  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on as many accounts as you can. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of identification before access is granted.

5. Use Caller ID and Call-Blocking Services

  • Enable caller ID on your phone to see who is calling. If the number is unknown or appears suspicious, let it go to voicemail.

  • Consider subscribing to a call-blocking service that can help prevent known scam numbers from reaching you. Many phone service providers offer solutions specifically designed to block unwanted calls.

6. Be Cautious with Incoming Calls

  • Do not answer calls from unknown numbers. If it's important, the caller will likely leave a message, and you can return the call after verifying their identity.

  • Teach elderly family members to be cautious and to hang up if they receive a call that seems suspicious or pressures them in any way.

 

By implementing these strategies, you can create a robust defense against scams targeting seniors. These proactive steps not only protect your financial and personal information but also empower you and your family to handle unexpected requests with confidence and caution.

What to do if you suspect you’ve been scammed

If you suspect that you or a loved one has fallen victim to a scam, acting quickly is crucial to minimize damage and improve the chances of recovering any losses. Here are detailed steps to follow:

1. Document Everything

  • Write down all details you remember about the scam, including the date and time of the call or interaction, the phone number or email address used by the scammer, what they told you, and any other relevant details.

  • Save any related communications, such as emails or text messages, and take screenshots if possible.

2. Contact Your Financial Institutions

  • Immediately call your bank, credit card company, or any financial institution connected to any accounts that might have been compromised.

  • Request to freeze or close your accounts to prevent further unauthorized access. Discuss the possibility of reversing any suspicious transactions and what the process entails.

3. Report the Scam

  • Contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-372-8311 for guidance and to report the scam. They can offer specific advice based on your situation and help you navigate the recovery process.

  • Report the scam to your local police department. Provide them with all the details you've collected; this report can be useful for future claims and may help the police track down the scammer.

  • File a complaint with the Attorney General of Your State. They can investigate the scam and may take legal action against the perpetrators.

  • Report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission via their website. The FTC cannot resolve individual complaints, but your report helps them collect data to combat fraud.

4. Alert Other Agencies If Necessary

  • If the scam involved identity theft, report it to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), where you can find specific recovery plans based on your situation.

  • If Medicare or Medicaid was discussed or used in the scam, report it to the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

5. Secure Your Personal Information

  • Change passwords and PINs on all your accounts, especially if you suspect your information might have been compromised.

  • Consider placing a fraud alert or a credit freeze on your credit reports. This makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts in your name. Contact the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to implement these safeguards.

6. Educate and Prepare for Future Incidents

  • Review and enhance your security measures. Consider subscribing to a credit monitoring service that alerts you to changes in your credit status.

  • Continue educating yourself and your family about new scams and how to recognize them. Attend community workshops or webinars focused on fraud prevention.

7. Seek Legal Advice

Consult with an attorney who specializes in consumer rights or elder law if you need legal advice or if the losses are significant. They can provide guidance on further actions you can take, including pursuing civil remedies.

 

By following these steps promptly, you can significantly mitigate the impact of a scam and protect your financial and personal well-being. It’s also important to share your experience with friends and community members to raise awareness and prevent others from falling victim to similar scams.

 

Staying ahead of scammers is a continuous effort, but with the right knowledge and precautions, you can significantly reduce the risk of becoming a victim. Educating yourself and being proactive about your financial and personal security can help maintain your independence and protect your resources. Remember, staying informed and prepared is your best defense against the cunning tactics of scammers aiming to undermine your hard-earned peace of mind.

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