Staying Safe Online: Common Senior Scams & Tips to Avoid Fraud
Staying Safe Online: Common Senior Scams & Tips to Avoid Fraud
Elder fraud refers to any deceptive scheme specifically designed to target and exploit older adults for financial gain. This includes acts where individuals are deceived with false promises of non-existent goods, services, or financial benefits, as well as scams that involve financial fraud or identity theft.
As reported by socialworktoday.com, the prevalence of financial exploitation among older adults is alarmingly high. Statistics reveal that nearly 1 in 20 individuals aged 60 and above can anticipate being a victim of financial exploitation. This incidence rate surpasses that of several age-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and arthritis.
The FBI’s 2022 Internet Crime Report states that individuals aged 60 and above experienced the highest financial losses to fraud, reaching a staggering $3.1 billion. This amount represents the highest reported loss across all age groups and surpasses any previous annual figures.
These scams are happening in every state, but especially in Florida with its large senior population. In fact, in May of 2023, the Jacksonville, Florida FBI reported a significant increase in the amount of scams targeting people over 65. Florida seniors should be vigilant, informed, and prepared in order to avoid being victims of a scam.
Why are seniors susceptible to scams?
Seniors face an increased vulnerability to scams due to various factors. Many older adults may not be very tech-savvy, making them more susceptible to online and phone scams. Cognitive or physical impairments in seniors can also hinder their ability to exercise sound judgment. Additionally, older individuals tend to be more trusting, a trait that scammers exploit.
Research indicates that seniors might hesitate to report fraud due to fear of losing independence or being perceived as incompetent. The likelihood of seniors being home alone during the day without supervision also increases the risk of falling victim to scams through phone calls or emails.
Another contributing factor is the perception that seniors possess accumulated wealth in the form of savings, assets, and a strong credit score. Exploiting trust, scammers target their victims for financial and personal information once trust is established.
Top 11 Common Senior Scams
There are countless different methods of scams targeting seniors. Below are 11 of the most common scams to look out for.
1. Technology Support Scam
One prevalent form of scam is the tech support scam, where perpetrators aim to deceive individuals by falsely asserting issues with their devices. The scam typically involves a fraudster posing as a tech support representative from a reputable company.
Through various tactics, such as displaying pop-ups or fake warning messages claiming a device is infected with a virus, the scammer prompts victims to urgently call a specified number or click on a provided link for assistance. Once contacted, the imposter gains remote access to the victim’s computer or phone, posing a serious threat to the security of personal information. The scammer may further demand payment for the given tech support services, often insisting on methods like gift cards or wire transfers.
2. Phishing Scam
Phishing is a deceptive tactic wherein scammers send fraudulent emails or messages, posing as legitimate entities, with the aim of tricking individuals into sharing sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers.
This form of cyber scam involves manipulating internet users to disclose their personal and financial data. Con artists employ tactics such as sending deceptive emails containing links, luring recipients into clicking on them, and subsequently stealing their personal information.
These perpetrators often stay up to date on current news and trends, exploiting timely events to increase the likelihood of successful phishing attempts.
3. Fake Check or Overpayment Scam
The overpayment scam is a common scheme wherein scammers send a check, seemingly to pay for an item or as a reward for winning a contest or prize. Subsequently, they request a portion of the money to be returned, stating fees associated with claiming the award or an alleged overpayment.
It’s essential to note that legitimate sweepstakes or lotteries do not require any payment to participate or collect winnings. Falling victim to this scam involves depositing the check, leading to the loss of the refunded amount and potentially even the funds from the fraudulent check that was utilized.
An example of this scam could be encountered on platforms like Facebook Marketplace, where a buyer offers to purchase an item, sends a check (possibly a cashier’s check), and then claims a mistake, asking the seller to deposit the check and refund the difference.
4. Romance Scam
Romance scams make up the most significant financial losses in elder fraud cases. Perpetrators exploit individuals seeking romantic connections on dating websites or social media platforms.
The typical scenario involves someone initiating contact online, building a connection, and expressing strong romantic feelings. After gaining the victim’s trust, the scammer fabricates a story and proceeds to request money, gifts, or personal information, often with the intention of accessing the victim’s bank account. Romance scammers frequently provide excuses for avoiding in-person meetings or video chats.
In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported losses of $1.3 billion attributed to romance scams, reflecting a substantial 137% increase from the previous year.
5. Grandparent Scam
Scammers often employ a deceptive tactic known as the ‘grandparent scam,’ typically initiating contact via phone. In this scheme, the fraudster poses as a grandchild or another family member in immediate financial distress, often claiming the grandchild has been involved in an accident or crime and urgently needs funds. To enhance their credibility, scammers use real information obtained online about the targeted individual’s grandchildren, including names and addresses.
Another variant involves the scammer posing as a representative, such as a lawyer or police officer, asserting that a family member needs immediate financial assistance for bail.
Warning signs of this scam include unsolicited calls declaring a loved one is in danger, requests for payment in cash, gift cards, or wire transfers to save their loved one, refusal to allow the recipient to verify the information, and the use of deception, intimidation, and coercion to pressure immediate action. If faced with such a situation, it is advisable to hang up and directly contact the alleged loved one or their parent to verify the authenticity of the claim.
6. Sweepstakes, Charity, Lottery Scam
Scammers often employ a scam to falsely claim that individuals have won a vacation, prize, or lottery, only to require payment for the said winnings. They may pose as representatives of legitimate companies, like a cruise line.
Victims typically receive communication in the form of letters, emails, phone calls, or text messages, stating they have won a prize in a lottery they never entered, and requesting payment for fees or taxes to claim the prize. Scammers may also pretend to represent a charity, asking for dues.
To verify the legitimacy of such claims, it’s crucial for individuals to conduct their own research on the alleged winnings or charity. If unsure, seeking assistance from a trusted advisor is recommended. Remember, you should never make upfront payments to receive winnings in the future.
7. Government Official Scam
Scammers often pose as government officials, using intimidation to threaten victims with arrest or prosecution unless they provide funds or make a payment of some sort. Some common examples include:
Medicare Scam: Scammers may call victims pretending to verify their Medicare number. If the victim complies, the scammers exploit the information for health benefit theft, also known as a medical identity theft. Alternatively, they may claim a fee is required for a new medical card and request their credit card details.
IRS Scam: This scam is typical around tax season, wherein scammers target the elderly posing as IRS representatives and alleging issues with their tax return. They collect information under the pretense of securing the victim’s tax file but use it to file phony tax refunds and commit identity theft.
Social Security Scam: Impersonators claim that the victim’s Social Security Number has been suspended due to an alleged crime. To reinstate it, they demand payment, often in the form of gift cards.
FBI or Law Enforcement Scam: Con artists make calls claiming a warrant for the victim’s arrest, insisting that payment is necessary to avoid jail and that a U.S. Marshall will show up at their door in 24 hours if not.
In all of these scenarios, the caller typically requests sensitive information such as Social Security Numbers, Medicare details, or credit card information. It’s crucial for individuals to be cautious and refrain from providing such information over the phone.
8. Elder Financial Abuse
Elder financial abuse is a distressing occurrence in which individuals known and trusted by the victim, such as family members, close friends, or caregivers, attempt to gain unauthorized access to the senior’s savings, credit, or assets.
Despite its prevalence, this issue is often under-discussed. Perpetrators may trick the victim into signing over access or power of attorney, and in some cases, they may resort to threatening to withhold necessary care unless granted access.
Warning signs of elder financial abuse include unfamiliar charges, the establishment of new accounts, suspicious loans, or credit inquiries that the senior did not initiate or consent to. Additionally, legitimate contact from companies or credit providers concerning debts not incurred by the senior should be a warning sign of elder financial abuse.
9. False Investment
Seniors, having dedicated a lifetime to building financial security, become particularly prone to fraudulent investments that aim to exploit their hard-earned savings.
Scammers often pose as knowledgeable financial advisors, reaching out unexpectedly with seemingly lucrative investment opportunities. This deceptive approach aims to extract transaction fees or, in some cases, outright steal the seniors’ investments. Several types of investment scams specifically target seniors, including:
Ponzi Schemes: These schemes entice seniors by promising high returns with minimal risk, using funds from new investors to pay existing ones.
Illegitimate Bonds and Certificates of Deposits (CDs): Scammers deceive cautious seniors with seemingly low-risk investments that either fail to deliver the promised returns or do not exist at all.
Charitable Gift Annuities: In this scam, seniors contribute a significant sum in return for a fixed income stream, often to non-existent charities, leading to funds going directly into the scammer’s hands.
Prime Bank Scams: Con artists falsely claim to have access to secret overseas markets, presenting an entirely made-up story, with any funds sent becoming stolen.
Recognizing warning signs is crucial, including promises of high returns with minimal risk, the absence of a guarantee in any investment, the use of high-pressure sales tactics, and difficulties in withdrawing the principal investment.
10. Funeral Scams
Funeral scams represent one of the most reprehensible forms of elder fraud, where con artists specifically target deceased individuals. These scammers exploit obituaries, attending funerals, and falsely claiming that the deceased had an outstanding debt.
Warning signs of funeral scams include:
Demand for Payment at a Funeral: Individuals you do not know may approach you, demanding payment for alleged debts during a funeral.
Unsubstantiated Claims of Knowing the Deceased: You might encounter someone who claims to know the deceased but lacks tangible evidence of their relationship. This is a potential red flag, signaling a fraudulent attempt to exploit the situation.
11. Reverse Mortgage Scams
Reverse mortgage scams target homeowners aged 62 and older who seek to access their home equity through reverse mortgages. Scammers use various methods, including billboards, ads, and fliers, claiming to assist in accessing home equity. However, their true intent is often to steal funds or engage in deed fraud, ultimately jeopardizing the homeowner’s property. Other variations of reverse mortgage scams include:
Mortgage Relief Scam: Scammers exploit seniors seeking financial aid by promising fast approval on loans in exchange for an upfront fee, preying on those considering reverse mortgages to avoid foreclosure.
Fraudulent Contractors: Some scammers offer free consultations, targeting elderly homeowners. They convince them to take out a reverse mortgage to cover unnecessary and overpriced repairs or updates.
Warning signs of reverse mortgage scams include:
High-Pressure Sales Tactics: Scammers may employ aggressive tactics to secure an agreement on a reverse mortgage without allowing homeowners to conduct proper due diligence.
Power of Attorney Request: If someone claims the need for power of attorney to finalize a reverse mortgage, it could be a red flag.
Tips for Seniors to Avoid Being Targeted for Scams
Even though scams and tactics can vary, there are numerous ways to avoid being scammed:
Something to remember is that no legitimate agency or company will ever demand payment on the spot.
If you think a payment feels fishy, it probably is.
Setting up credit monitoring or identity theft protection can help you by sending immediate alerts of any signs of fraud.
Adding extra security to your accounts, like multifactor authentication, requires you to enter a code sent to your personal device in order to access your account. This keeps scammers out of your account, even if they have your passwords.
Avoiding odd payment types like gift cards, wire transfers, money orders, cryptocurrency, and payment apps, can help you steer clear of scammers.
Never reveal personal information like Social Security Number or credit card numbers to someone who has not been verified.
Do not click on suspicious links online. If you are not sure, ask a friend or family member if a situation seems suspicious.
Many seniors do not report scams out of fear or embarrassment, but it is important to know anyone of any age can get scammed. Being open and sharing your experience with close encounters or successful fraud attempts with a trusted individual helps prevent more scams from occurring.
Be suspicious of any and all unsolicited calls or messages. A little extra caution can save you a lot of heartache – and money! Always have in the back of your mind to take a minute to consider if the scenario is too good to be true. Do your research. If they are a legit company, you can always call back and use their services, rather than them pressuring you into doing something right away.
It is important to remember that government agencies and most companies will not usually contact you for your personal information without you knowing about it beforehand.
What To Do If You Are a Victim of a Scam
Never feel ashamed if you find yourself in a situation involving a scam. Remember, it’s not your fault. If you’ve been tricked into sharing information or giving money, take proactive steps to address the situation. Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through reportfraud.ftc.gov. Depending on the circumstances, you may consider filing a police report or seeking a personalized recovery plan from the FTC using identitytheft.gov.
Stay informed by keeping up to date on new scams so you can prevent any future issues. Staying alert and knowing what to look for, you can prevent yourself or loved ones from being taken advantage of.
Need More Senior Guidance?
As we age, there are many topics we should be aware of – with scams being just one.
It can be hard to know the best steps to take when a situation occurs. The expert senior advisors at Florida Senior Consulting are here to help you make a personalized plan of action for your loved one’s well-being and care.