Common Scams Against Seniors in 2021
Financial scams targeting the elderly can be devastating, leaving older adults in a vulnerable position and without time to recoup their losses. Older adults lose an estimated $3 billion each year to financial scams. These criminals focus on the elderly because they believe they have saved large amounts of money to support their retirement years. There are many different types of scams that we will cover in this article.
Why Do Scammers Target Elderly?
Scammers target seniors, but it’s not just wealthy seniors who are targeted. Lower income older adults are also at risk of financial scams. Ironically, it's not always strangers who are responsible for these crimes. Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, but sometimes it is extended family that commit these crimes.
Unfortunately, these financial scams often go unreported and can be difficult to prosecute, so they’re considered a “low-risk” crime. However, they can be devastating to many older adults and can leave them in incredibly vulnerable positions. Because seniors can be more willing to listen, and more trusting, they can be taken advantage of and deceived.
Common Tactics Used By Scammers
Scammers can use a number of tactics to attempt to take advantage of a senior. The most common tactics are trying to befriend their target, using the sympathy of their target. A scammer could approach a senior claiming to need help getting home, or money to repair their car. Even worse they could try to use fear to coerce their victim. The scammer could threaten the senior or their family with harm, or extort them for money.
7 Common Senior Scams
There are several typical scams that a criminal can use to try to extract money from a senior. Some use fear or inexperience with technology to trick a senior, while some pose as an official to try to con seniors out of their money. Here are a few of those scams.
1. Zoom Phishing Emails
According to AARP “You receive an email, text or social media message with the Zoom logo, telling you to click on a link because your account is suspended or you missed a meeting,” says Katherine Hutt, national spokesperson for the BBB. “Clicking can allow criminals to download malicious software onto your computer, access your personal information to use for identity theft, or search for passwords to hack into your other accounts.” You should never click on links in unsolicited emails, texts or social media messages.
Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, so there is rarely any need for a scam artist to figure out what private health insurance company seniors have in order to scam them out of their money. In these types of scams, criminals may pose as a Medicare official to get a senior to give them their personal information, or they will offer bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then bill Medicare and pocket the money. Medicare scams often follow the latest trends in medical research, such as genetic testing fraud and COVID-19 vaccines.
3. Grandparent Scam
The grandparent scam is so simple and so underhanded because it uses one of seniors’ most authentic assets, their hearts. Scammers will place a call to a senior and say something along the lines of: “Hi Gramma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity without having done any background research. According to the IRS, “Once “hooked,” the fake grandchild will ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, car repairs, jail bond) and will beg the grandparent not to tell anyone. Because scammers ask to be paid via gift cards or money transfer, which don’t always require identification to collect, the senior may have no way of seeing that money ever again.”
4. Tech Support Scam
Computer technical support scams prey on a senior’s assumed lack of knowledge about computers, the internet, and cybersecurity. A pop-up message or blank screen will usually appear on a computer or smartphone, telling you that your device is compromised and needs repaired or updated. When they call the support number for help, the scammer may either request remote access to your computer and/or that you pay a fee to have it repaired. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that seniors who fell for this scam lost an average of $500 each to computer tech support scams in 2018.
5. Sweepstakes Scams
According to AARP - This simple scam is one that many are familiar with, and it capitalizes on the notion that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Here, scammers inform their mark that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind and need to make some sort of payment to unlock the supposed prize. Often, seniors will be sent a check that they can deposit in their bank account, knowing that while it shows up in their account immediately, it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected. During that time, the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize, which they pocket while the victim has the “prize money” removed from his or her account as soon as the check bounces. Unlike some of the other scams noted here, lottery and sweepstakes scammers can sometimes collect thousands of dollars from their unsuspecting victims.
6. IRS Scams
According to The United States Department of Justice: IRS Imposter Scams are aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers. Callers claim to be employees of the IRS, but are not. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a wire transfer or stored value card such as a gift card. Victims who refuse to cooperate are threatened with arrest, deportation, or suspension of a business or driver’s license. IRS Imposter Scams operating from abroad often use U.S.-based money mules to receive victim payments and transmit proceeds to perpetrators.
7. Robocall Scams
Robocalls take advantage of sophisticated phone technology to dial large numbers of households from anywhere in the world. Robocallers use a variety of tactics to cheat their victims. Some may claim that a warranty is expiring on their car/electronic product and payment is needed to renew it. One popular robocall is the “Can you hear me?” call, where when the senior says yes, the scammer hangs up after recording their voice, thus obtaining a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges on items like stolen credit cards.
Are You a Victim of Senior Fraud?
People get scammed every day. Young and old, experienced or unprepared, everyone gets targeted during their lifetime. No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed should they fall victim to a scam. But, if you are a victim, there are resources to help. You can contact your local police, Adult Protective Services or the Ombudsman. Here are a few links that can help if this situation happens to you.