Scams Affecting Seniors: What You Need to Know

September 1, 2023 | Author: Deppe Fredbeck & Yount LLP

Scammers today are using modern technology to come up with more and more sophisticated scams. While these increasingly complex forms of fraud have the potential to negatively impact everyone, scammers especially seem to target America’s aging community of seniors. According to the most recent FBI Crime Report, individuals over the age of sixty (60) lost nearly 1.7 billion dollars to fraud and related activities last year. To make matters worse, seniors make up 35% of all fraud victims in the United States despite only representing 12% of the population.

Scammers target seniors for many different reasons, but the primary of that being that the average senior does not adapt to technological changes as well as their younger counterparts. This allows for scammers to attack the weaknesses of seniors when they are using their cell phones, computers, or other devices. Scammers also like to target seniors because of their potential to have accumulated a healthy life savings. Many seniors like to use some of their nest egg to help others, whether that be by giving to charity, spoiling grandchildren, or investing in small businesses. Unfortunately, scammers understand this as well and use emotional pleas to take advantage of the good hearts of many seniors.

One of the main ways for seniors to protect themselves against scammers is to make themselves aware of the current scams that are circulating. Below are some common scams targeting seniors today.

The Grandparent Scam – As one can imagine, scammers will use anything to their advantage. One of the things scammers love to target is the affection seniors have for their grandchildren. With this scam, the scammers call seniors and pose as a grandchild. The caller, pretending to be the grandchild, will tell the senior that they are in danger or in jail and need money to get out of it. Another form of this is to pose as a grandchild and tell the senior that they need money for some other reason. The fictitious reason might be educational expenses, an investment opportunity, or something else even more creative. A recent twist in this scam is the ever-increasing ability of artificial intelligence. There have been reports of scammers using A.I. technology to copy the voices of grandchildren, making it nearly impossible for seniors to spot any foul play. If you get a call like this, the best thing you can do is hang up the phone and take your time and think. Does this sound like something your grandchild would do? Call the grandchild back directly at their phone number or contact a family member of the grandchild. This will help you determine whether or not the request was really from your grandchild or not.

Government Scams – Scammers have started calling seniors and posing as Medicare agents, Social Security Administration (SSA) agents, and/or IRS agents. These scammers call seniors to request personal information to “confirm” accounts. They often tell seniors that there is a problem with their account and that they will not be receiving their benefits until they provide information confirming their identity. Many seniors rely on Social Security and Medicare and are afraid of what might happen if they lose their benefits or income. This leads them to act hastily and make unsound decisions. If this happens to you, take a deep breath and hang up the phone. After having time to think and relax, contact a loved one or directly contract the agency that claimed to be calling. After contacting the agency directly, you should have a much better idea of whether the initial call you received was legitimate or not.

The Charity Scam – With this example, scammers call seniors and act as if they represent a charity that needs assistance. They appeal to the emotions of seniors and tell them that their dollars will make a difference. If you receive a phone call from a charity, ask the person on the other end for time to think and tell them you will call them back with your decision. Then, go research the charity. Often, you will be able to tell how legitimate a charity is by its history and reviews. If you still want to donate to the charity after getting more information, make your donation through the appropriate channels listed on the charity’s website, not by calling back the person you talked to earlier.

Tech Support and Spam Emails – Another classic but still prevalent form of fraud is when scammers send emails claiming to be tech support. They claim that they can help solve a general problem that many people have and convince seniors that they will make it easier to navigate their device. Often these emails are have malware attached that allows the scammer to access your information once you click on the attachment or hyperlink. If you receive an email along these lines that you were not expecting or comes from a source you are unfamiliar with, it is best to ask someone else to look at it. If both of you cannot determine whether the email and sender is legitimate or not, it is best not to interact with it. Then delete the email.

The Sweepstakes / Lottery Scam – This is a perfect example of how if something seems “too good to be true,” it most likely is. A common scam targeting seniors today involves seniors receiving a phone call, email, or letter claiming that they won some sweepstakes or giveaway. These communications might even include what appears to be a real check. However, these scammers require you giving personal information before you can receive your reward or cash the “check.” This information may include social security numbers or bank information. If you receive a communication like this, take a deep breath and understand that it most likely is not legitimate. The best thing to do is contact a loved one and ask them to help you research the sweepstakes or “company” sending the communication. If you cannot find information confirming the legitimacy of the sweepstakes, do not respond to the communication. While receiving a surprising and life-changing reward seems like a dream come true, it is important to stay level-headed and analyze the situation, no matter how hard that may be.

Online Shopping Scams – With this ploy, scammers create fake websites that offer products for sale that the scammers do not really have. If you purchase from these websites, you either receive an extremely low-quality product, the wrong product, or no product at all. The scammers not only receive your money, but also all the credit card and personal information you entered into the site. It is extremely important when online shopping to analyze the quality of the website you are purchasing from and read reviews from the website. If the deal is “too good to be true,” it probably is. Purchasing from a reliable website is always a better option than purchasing from a questionable one, even if there appears to be a price difference.

One of the best ways to protect yourself from scammers is to be aware of the popular scams going around at any given time. There are new tactics being created all the time. Seniors should endeavor to be aware, always think twice, and to communicate with loved ones. If you receive something that you think you are interested in but it seems questionable, ask someone! With how complex and professional some scams have become today, there is no shame in asking someone for help if you are not sure. It is always better to be safe than sorry. If you think something might be a scam, it is probably best to assume that it is and move on.