No matter your age, ethnicity, or socio-economic status, fraudsters are looking for ways to scam you. Anyone can be the target of fraud, but there are many scams that are designed to take advantage of the senior population in our communities.
New scams have been popping up due to the COVID-19 pandemic and law enforcement has reported an uptick in fraud targeted at the senior population, in particular, grandparent scams. Below we’ve detailed what to expect with some of the most common elder scams, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you fall victim to fraud.
The grandparent scam appeals to the emotional connection that grandparents have with their children and grandchildren. The scammer will call and pretend to be your grandchild who is in trouble or needs funds immediately for rent or other expenses. Typically they will tell you that you can’t tell anyone else that they called and will need you to get the funds to them ASAP. They will ask for a wire transfer immediately and act as though the problem will only get worse the longer it takes.
If you get a call like this, do not act immediately on the request. Hang up and call your grandchild or their parents and check in on them. Do not keep the call to yourself and pay the caller because this is a scam to get a large sum of money from you.
Knowing that everyone over 65 qualifies for Medicare makes it easier for fraudsters to pose as health insurance agents and fake credibility when talking to a senior. They will pretend to work for Medicare and ask for personal information over the phone relating to your healthcare benefits.
They will then use your personal information to access your accounts and take money from you. It’s important to know that Medicare will never call you and ask for this information over the phone. If you are ever even the least bit suspicious, hang up and call Medicare to verify the request before giving any information.
One of the most common schemes is when scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on seniors. Unfortunately, the elderly population is more accustomed to shopping over the phone so it can be more challenging to realize you’re being taken advantage of.
In a telemarketing scam, the fraudster will get your money or personal information in exchange for goods or services that you will never receive or donations to organizations that don’t exist. Unfortunately, once successful, scammers will share your name and information with others to attempt to take advantage of you again.
Similar to the grandparent schemes, don’t hesitate to hang up on any suspicious phone calls. Always verify the source of the call before providing any personal information or your debit or credit card numbers.
With the lottery scam, fraudsters will approach an elder and indicate that you’ve won a sweepstakes or raffle, even though you didn’t enter one. The catch is that you’ll need to pay some sort of fee in order to get your winnings. They will send you a fake check knowing that in the time it takes to get that check deposited and rejected, they can pocket your fee and disappear.
In this scenario, it’s important to remember that if you didn’t enter to win something, then you probably didn’t actually win anything. Don’t give your personal information or pay to get a prize you supposedly won.
While these happen to everyone, scammers know that, generally speaking, many seniors aren’t as tech-savvy as the younger generations. Because of that, they will create email scams that prey on that vulnerability.
Oftentimes the email will appear to come from a legitimate source, such as the IRS, asking you to verify your personal information. It could be in relation to your tax refund or social security or Economic Stimulus check, so it will seem credible.
The IRS, or any other legitimate company, will never ask for this type of information by email. Ignore emails like this and, as always, call the IRS or company directly if you have any questions about the legitimacy of the request. It’s also important to keep your computer malware up to date to ensure that you’re being protected from scam emails or pop-ups.
Tips for How to Protect Yourself
- Hang up on any suspicious callers. Do not act immediately on any requests without verification
- Brush up on common scams and warning signs
- Don’t believe promises of easy money. Remember: You can’t win a contest you did not enter
- Be cautious when meeting individuals online or anyone who is asking for money to be sent overseas
- Do not provide any passwords or financial credentials to anyone
- Use two-factor authentication when available
- Shred documents with personal information
- Safeguard your Social Security card, wallet, and personal information
- Change passwords often. Do not use the same password for all accounts at the same time
- Check your credit report regularly. Verify the last time it was pulled to ensure no one else is pulling your information
- Make sure computers are up to date with malware/security settings
- Don’t allow yourself to be rushed when someone is asking for information or money –take your time, ask questions and verify what’s being said
- If you write down passwords, keep the list in a locked drawer. Another option is an online app that stores your passwords
- Monitor your account activity frequently online
If You Fall Victim to a Scam
Outlined below are steps you can take if you fall victim to one of these scams.
- File a police report with your local police station
- Check all your credit reports, notify creditors, and financial institutions.
- Notify all three Credit Bureaus, if necessary:
- Change usernames and passwords on all accounts
- Contact the Social Security Administration if your Social Security number was exposed: 800-772-1213
- Check your computer for viruses
- For IRS scams, individuals should call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040