Tips to Help Avoid Senior Scams and Scammers
Seniors lose approximately $3 billion from their savings each year because of scams in the U.S. Around one in 10 Americans age 65 and older are victimized by scammers in their lifetime, but a few tips can save you from falling prey to senior scams.
- Don’t give out credit card numbers over the phone
- Don’t give money to family over the phone
- Follow the adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is?”
- Don’t give control of your computer to someone you don’t know
These tips will help you avoid common scams against older adults. We’ll go into more detail on what each of these tips will protect you against, as well as some information on how prominent scams against older adults really are.
Protecting Yourself from Scams
Don’t Give Out Credit Card Numbers
Avoid providing your credit card number over the phone unless you’re ordering from a company you trust. A top ploy targeting seniors is the IRS scam. An aggressive caller gives you a bogus IRS badge number and claims you owe back taxes. They suggest you can avoid being arrested by paying immediately with a credit card. However, the IRS says that they never require immediate payment for taxes over the phone and certainly won’t send the police busting into your home to collect.
Don’t Give Money to Someone Over the Phone – Even If They Claim to Be Family
If someone claims to be a family member needing money, verify their identity by asking questions only they would know—such as the name of a family pet or uncle. This will protect you from the so-called “grandparent scam” that tugs at the heartstrings of well-meaning grandparents. The con artist calls or emails you and pretends to be a grandchild in trouble. After explaining there’s been an accident, arrest or robbery, they say they’re desperate for money and ask you to send it right away with a credit card or wire transfer.
Follow the Adage “If It Seems Too Good to be True, It Probably Is”
Remember the adage “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is?” Most people now realize that the gilt-edged letter from Publisher’s Clearing House stating they’ve won millions is probably not for real.
However, there are similar schemes that have claimed 45 percent more victims since 2013. They start with a letter that says “we are pleased to inform you” and go on to say you’ve won a raffle, supermarket sweepstakes or other unexpected bonanza. The schemers get your money and information about your bank account by asking you to pay a “processing fee” as high as $3,000 to claim the fake prize. So follow the advice of the adage: if it sounds amazing and doesn’t seem like it’s real, it’s probably not.
Don’t Give Control of Your Computer to Someone You Don’t Trust
Beyond a very short list of professional service companies, don’t turn over control of your computer to someone you don’t know. Tech professionals routinely ask you to click on a link that allows them to look at your computer files. That’s fine if you called tech support asking for help. But if a random person calls to say they’re from Microsoft and your computer might crash, it’s a fraud. If you give them access to your computer, the damage can be very serious. They can scoop up your passwords, plant malware or mine your data for bank account numbers.
Fraud Against Older Adults: Statistics and Common Scams
Fraud against seniors is a bigger problem than most people know. In the U.S., it’s estimated that only 1 in every 24 cases of fraud against older adults are reported is reported. That’s why actual losses are hard to estimate. They’re at least $3 billion to $36 billion, a very wide range because many seniors never come forward. The average loss to each person is $34,200.
Scams are on the rise, too. More than 14,700 taxpayers have lost around $73 million because of the IRS scam over the years. Americans lost $41 million to the grandparent scam in 2018, compared to $26 million the previous year. And tech support scams cost Americans a hefty $1.5 billion each year.
Variations on the Theme
For each type of scheme, some variations can catch you off guard. For instance, a common scam that many people are aware of is someone pretending to call from the IRS, saying you owe money or will face an arrest warrant. Now, scammers have adjusted the scheme and instead of pretending to be from the IRS, the scammer may claim you have an overdue loan or that you missed jury duty and owe a fine.
Don’t fall for the original scam or the variation. The IRS cautions that government agencies don’t demand money over the phone. There is always a legal process before someone is prosecuted. If you get a call like the ones described above, contact the government agency yourself to verify.
Caller ID can sometimes help screen out phone crooks. For instance, sweepstakes scammers often call from a phone number starting with 876, the country code for Jamaica. Unfortunately, some IRS scammers have altered their caller ID so it looks like the real IRS is calling, convincing many of their victims.
As for the get-rich-quick sweepstakes scam, experts warn that you can’t win a contest you never entered. You can research the company on the Better Business Bureau website if you think the prize is real. But don’t ever pay to claim your prize: doing so is illegal in the United States and no legitimate company will ask you to do it.
Why Mature Adults Are Tempting Targets
According to the FBI, seniors are prime targets for scam artists for these reasons:
- They’re more likely to have a nest egg, home equity and excellent credit, so they have money to spend
- They may have been raised in more trusting times as opposed to millennials who are naturally skeptical of internet communications
- Many seniors are contacted by “snake oil” peddlers who are selling fake health tonics, worthless pills that supposedly increase cognitive function or anti-cancer remedies that have no proven benefits
How to Handle a Suspected Fraud
Most people don’t know how to report a fraud or may not even realize they’ve been fooled.
One simple remedy is to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. There are three credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) and you only need to alert one if you suspect fraud. The bureau you contact is legally required to contact the other two. The process is simple and free. Here’s a guide to placing a fraud alert.
You can also sign up for the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which can help you identify and avoid scams. You can sign up for free watchdog alerts, look at a scam-tracking map to see if there’s fraud in your area or call a fraud helpline if you’ve been victimized by a con artist.
A Senior Community That Cares
At Concordia, we care about the well-being of the whole person, from physical to emotional and mental health. That includes caring for your finances and making sure you’re not harmed mentally by a scammer.
To help you stay safe, our not-for-profit community is dedicated to safe, affordable senior living in Oklahoma City. Our senior community apartments and cottages have spacious, beautifully manicured grounds you can enjoy freely without maintenance worries. We offer a wide range of amenities, activities and lifestyles tailored to each exciting new phase of your life from independent living to memory care.
If you’re looking for an active, engaging place to spend your retirement, get in touch with our team. We’ll be happy to talk about the apartments we have available and help you make the right choice for your lifestyle.