The cost is a staggering $3 billion annually. No, it’s not the latest government bailout; rather it’s the harsh truth about senior scams. If history is any indication, 1 in every 10 Americans age 65 or older will likely be scammed this year.
What do you do if you think your elderly parent is at risk for being scammed? First, let’s take a look at some of the more prevalent schemes so you can be on the lookout.
Senior Scams: Let Me Count the Ways
How many types of elderly scams are out there? The criminal mind is a fertile one, and so unfortunately there are quite a few.
Fake IRS calls comprise the majority of elderly phone scams. The caller informs the unsuspecting elder that taxes have not been paid, threatening them with imprisonment or exorbitant fees if the past-due amount is not immediately submitted. These calls are demanding, if not ominous — which, prevailing tropes aside, is not how the agency handles such matters.
Social Security Scams
The latest Social Security scam involves sending fake documents through email. The cover letter explains that there is a problem with the Social Security number, the account or the benefits. The letter may threaten arrest or perhaps offer to increase benefits or solve a problem with the account. Of course, payment is demanded.
Robocalls are becoming increasingly sophisticated, even displaying an official agency name on the victim’s caller ID. These calls are often aided by information the senior has made publicly available through social media accounts. This may include pictures of identification cards, airplane or event tickets, and home photos. Any of these things may reveal personally identifying information, such as numbers or bar codes, that puts the elder at risk.
Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
Who wouldn’t be thrilled to hear that they’ve won a cash prize, a fantasy trip or a brand-new car? The catch is that there is a fee that must be paid before you can collect your winnings. This scam is perpetrated by phone, email, text message, social media and mail. Seniors may also be asked to share personal information which allows the criminal to tap into their accounts.
Computer Tech-Support Scams
“There is a serious problem with your computer.” Or so the scammer would have the elder believe. This scam can come through a pop-up on the computer screen or arrive unsolicited via a phone call from a familiar-sounding company. The scammer asks for remote access and then charges the victim for fixing a problem that doesn’t actually exist.
One of the most common Medicare schemes is a call to verify that the senior has received a new card as well as a request to return the old one. Scams also include calls for the sale of supplemental plans and insurance, as well as offers of free genetic testing.
Perhaps the most insidious of all scams are those that result in identity theft. Identity theft happens when a senior inadvertently gives out private information, such as a Social Security number or birth date, and ends up living a nightmare. Identity theft can drain life savings, max out credit cards and even result in fraudulent insurance claims.
Red Flags for Elderly Scams
There are usually red flags that signal that the communication is not legitimate:
- There are typos, even one or two, in the letter or email.
- The phone call is unsolicited.
- Regarding a government agency, the senior did not receive a letter prior to the phone call. (Note: Medicare will never call unless requested.)
- The caller requests payment using cash, a retail gift card or wire transfer.
- The elder is threatened with jail if they do not pay.
- The caller requests a password, personal identity or banking details.
- The caller asks for money before they send a larger sum of money (or something of great value).
What to Do If Your Elderly Parent Is Being Scammed
If your beloved senior has been victimized, the first thing you’ll want to do is report it to the proper authorities. This may include any of the following:
- The bank or financial institution
- The police
- Your state’s attorney general’s office
- The local consumer protection agency
Promptly contact the following, as well, to determine what your next steps should be:
- The FTC’s Consumer Response Center, at 1-877-382-4357
- The AARP Fraud Watch Network, at 1-877-908-3360
- For identity theft, identitytheft.gov
- For financial complaints, finra.org
Once the deed is done, try to avoid blaming the victim. Older adults are particularly vulnerable if they lack internet experience. Exercise a bit of compassion and help them understand how to avoid trouble in the future. But most importantly, be proactive now.
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