It’s really quite amazing how many varieties of scams there are that single out seniors as their victims. Perhaps older people seem more vulnerable than their younger counterparts, but anyone of any age can fall victim to fraud. People my age grew up in a more innocent time. So many of the things that happen now were unheard of back then, which may make us sitting ducks for dishonest schemes.
- Phone Scams
Phone scams targeting seniors include robocalls that offer free medical supplements, devices, or discounts. IRS imposter-scammer calls claim that you owe taxes and could be sent to jail if you don’t pay them right away. If you respond, you may be tricked or pressured into sharing your address, personal information, and credit card account number. What to do: Be aware that scammers can use stolen credentials to commit credit card fraud, so don’t give them any personal information. Also, you should know that the IRS will never initiate contact by phone and won’t ask for unusual payment methods, such as gift cards, so be alert for such calls.
- Home Repair Scams
Older adults may be more likely to own homes and be at home during the day. Scammers will knock on doors or make calls to offer home repair services. You might also be targeted if you live somewhere that was recently hit by a natural disaster. Or, the scammer might be selling home improvements, such as energy-efficient upgrades or solar panels that could save you money over time. What to do: Check credentials; then, call the company, or go to the company website. Do not give them any money. Do not apply for financing to pay for the job. If they do any work at all, it will probably be unsatisfactory, or they may simply disappear.
- Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams often start with a popup or online advertisement warning you that your device is infected or vulnerable. You may be told to install an update or new software, which turns out to be malicious software that can take over your device or steal your information. Or you may be told to call tech support for help or pay for additional protection, support, or an upgrade. What to do: First, as always, be skeptical. Try to determine who “tech support” is associated with—Apple if you have a Mac, Microsoft, or the manufacturer of your computer. If you cannot pin down the person on the phone, ask for a phone number to call back. You are unlikely to get it. If they refuse, terminate the call, and block the number on your phone.
- Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
You might get a call, email, text, or letter telling you that you’ve won a prize or can enter a sweepstakes. Not true. The scammers will often tell you that you need to pay upfront, perhaps to buy sweepstakes tickets or to cover a processing fee. What to do: Don’t pay it. If they ask for your personal information, obviously, you would not provide it. If you have lots of time, you could later research the supposed sweepstakes, but I wouldn’t bother. Just block the number on your phone.
- Charity Scams
A charity scam is one in which you are persuaded to send money to a fake charitable cause. You may be pressured to act quickly for any number of reasons, all of which sound believable. The most effective of these scams involve causes that you are known to care about and even support or a recent catastrophe where survivors need help immediately. What to do: Before you give any money away, be sure this is an actual charity, and your money will go directly to that cause. Don’t be talked into making a rushed contribution. Take time to research charities on such sites as Charity Navigator and CharityWatch. If you want to donate, visit the official website, or call the organization using the phone number on the website.
Basic Steps to Avoid Senior Scams
While there may be variations in scams aimed at seniors, the more you know, the better prepared you will be to avoid falling for one. Here are some dos and don’ts:
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. What are the chances you can make a lot of money working from home, or be given medical care at no cost, or meet the man of your dreams on some obscure online dating site? About as likely as winning the lottery. Even if you are normally a trusting soul, train yourself to be skeptical of any offer you haven’t thoroughly investigated. Don’t agree to anything too quickly. Take your time, get some other opinions, and put on your detective’s hat.
- If you receive a phone call or email from a source you don’t recognize, ignore it. Scammers can make such correspondence look as if it’s coming from legitimate companies and government agencies. If you do answer the phone, ask for the organization’s name and a call-back number. Look it up, and check the phone number. Call it to see if it’s legitimate.
- Make sure your accounts are secure with multifactor authentication. There are usually several steps to setting this up, but if you follow directions, it isn’t terribly complicated; and it’s worth the trouble to protect your finances. Enabling this extra security measure can keep scammers out of your accounts even if they are able to obtain your username and password.
- Scammers will often ask you to send them money with a wire transfer, money order, cryptocurrency, payment app, or gift card. These requests should make you suspicious. Something so out of the ordinary may mean you are talking to a criminal.
What to do if …
- If a scammer tricks you into sharing information or handing over money, you can report the fraud to the FTC on ftc.gov.
- If you are scammed, you can file a police report or get a personalized recovery plan from the FTC using IdentityTheft.gov.
- If you have the best precautions in place, you may still want to monitor your credit and identity for signs of identity theft and fraud.
- If there’s any suspicious activity detected, you can get free credit report monitoring with real-time alerts.
- If you are a victim of identity theft, Experian IdentityWorksSM includes identity-theft insurance and support.
*Based on an article by Louis DeNicola