Scams Targeting Seniors Are on the Rise. Here’s What to Do About Them
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), financial scams targeting seniors continue to rise. Older adults lost a whopping $1.7 billion in 2021. While scammers target individuals of all ages, several factors make older adults especially vulnerable. Despite this, older adults can take steps to protect their finances and personal information. This includes understanding why scammers like to target seniors and discovering the tactics scammers use. Seniors can also become familiar with some common scams directed at them and how to avoid them.
What Makes Seniors Attractive to Scammers?
Seniors have certain vulnerabilities that scammers take advantage of. These include –
Loneliness – Many seniors live alone, with caregivers often many miles away. This creates a sense of loneliness that encourages them to trust individuals they probably shouldn’t.
Cognitive decline – As we age, some of us will experience impairments in our ability to reason and make good decisions. Scammers recognize this vulnerability and are swift to take advantage of it.
Significant monetary reserves to support their retirement – Not all seniors have a hefty retirement reserve, but scammers are adept at determining the financial status of potential victims.
Lack of skill with technology – Computer and smart phone technology continues to advance by leaps and bounds. As a result, it’s often difficult for seniors to understand that they shouldn’t click a link in a text message or respond to an email requesting personal or financial information.
On top of these factors, seniors represent a generation that was raised to be polite, to help those in need, and to not question authority. Scammers know how to use these otherwise laudable traits to take advantage of some of our most vulnerable citizens.
How Do Scammers Attempt to Fool Seniors?
An important first step that seniors can take to avoid becoming a scam victim is to be aware of the methods scammers use to entrap them. Scammers attempt to contact seniors via phone calls, emails, text messages, and on social media. Once contact is made, they will –
- FAKE their identity, pretending to be someone they are not. This includes fake names, fake photos, fake personal backgrounds, fake businesses and charitable organizations, fake profiles on social media, fake credentials, and the list goes on. Whatever story a scammer can come up with to persuade seniors to believe them is fair game.
- Use intimidation tactics to scare seniors into coughing up money or information. This is especially true of scammers pretending to be government officials or anyone perceived to be an authority figure.
- Try to sweet talk seniors into handing over personal or financial information or money. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, scammers will deceive seniors by being exceedingly nice, praising and flattering them to gain their trust.
- And if they can’t persuade the potential victim to hand over their money and information, scammers will use technology and the internet to infect computers with malware that transfers personal and financial information and money to them.
Scammers have learned how to use these basic tactics to concoct virtually endless schemes to defraud people in general, and seniors in particular.
What Are Some Common Scams Targeting Seniors?
These are just a few of the most common scams targeting older adults.
The Grandparent scam – Scammers will simply say, “Hi grandma (or grandpa)!” when an older adult answers the phone. The grandparent will often say the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds most like. When the scammer says, “Yes,” they have secured the grandparent’s trust, and the fraud begins.
Romance scams – Scammers will often befriend seniors on social media or via online dating sites, using fake profiles to gain their trust and exploit their loneliness.
Computer tech support scams – These scams often use pop-ups on computers that inform the older adult that their computer is broken and needs to be fixed. Once the senior calls the tech support number provided, the scammer will demand money up front to fix the problem.
Government official imposter scams – The scammer impersonates a government official (e.g., IRS agent), informs the senior that they owe money, and threatens them with legal or other action if they don’t pay immediately.
If these weren’t enough to worry about, new scams are popping up every day. That’s why it’s critical for seniors to take steps to make sure they don’t fall victims to these unsavory practices.
What Can Seniors Do to Reduce the Risk of Being Scammed?
Seniors can/should –
- Educate themselves on the kinds of scams targeting them. The American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP’s) Fraud Resource Center is a free resource that describes over 80 types of scams, as well as how to spot and prevent them.
- Protect private and financial information as well as online passwords. Consider installing malware alerts and virus protection on your computer’s browser.
- Never give out personal or financial information over the phone or online. This includes name, address, social security number, and bank account information. Legitimate entities never ask for this information.
- Let calls from “unknown numbers” go to voice mail, even the ones with the caller’s area code. If it’s important, they will leave a message.
- Stay calm and pause before acting, especially if being threatened or pressured to respond immediately.
- Research to determine the legitimacy of the information the scammer is giving in a phone call or has left in a voice message.
- Never click links in texts or emails from unknown senders to avoid malware attacks.
- Do not accept “friend requests” on social media from strangers.
- It’s okay to say, “I don’t accept offers over the phone,” and hang up.
- Take immediate action if they think they have been scammed. At a minimum, fraud victims should immediately file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Avoiding becoming a victim of a scam can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Seniors and their caregivers should educate themselves and stay up to date on the latest scams through organizations like the NCOA and the AARP.
H Power Computing is also available to help. If you think your smartphone or computer has been compromised because of a malware attack, contact us for a free diagnostic. We can also advise you on steps you can take to “scam-proof” your computer, iPhone, or Android device.