Imagine a widowed senior citizen looking for companionship on a dating site – and instead getting bilked out of a large sum of money. It’s called catfishing, luring someone into a relationship through a fake online persona, and it’s just one of dozens of senior scams with financially devastating results.
Senior scams don’t always revolve around dating sites, but scams targeting seniors usually involve money. In 2020, a senior scam involved alleged Medicare representatives offering seniors free COVID-19 tests and masks in exchange for personal Medicare information. The senior scammers then fraudulently billed Medicare thousands of dollars in claims using their victims’ names.
While anyone can become a scam victim, elderly people are often targeted by scammers for a number of reasons. Seniors tend to be more polite and trusting. They could be lonely and more vulnerable to a scammer’s manipulation. They may have medical conditions that make them targets for fake remedies, or make them more interested in phony anti-aging products. Seniors may also own their home, have a healthy nest egg and have good credit, all of which make them particularly attractive targets.
Senior citizens may also be less inclined to report the scam, either because they’re too ashamed to admit they were a victim or because they don’t know how. That only emboldens thieves, who realize they can scam seniors out of large sums of money with very little risk. Catfishing in particular has proven to be lucrative. The Federal Trade Commission found that in 2020 romance scams caused the largest average losses for seniors 70-79, who lost an average of $10,000.
Here are some common senior scams that could target you or someone you love, along with helpful tips on how to protect yourself, your personal information and your bank account.
If you’re an American over 65, you automatically qualify for Medicare, and scammers are well aware of it. All they have to do is pretend to be a Medicare representative and ask victims to “verify their Medicare number,” which scammers then use to bill for services you never received.
Other senior scams involve telling a senior they need to pay for a new Medicare card (except Medicare cards are free), or telling the senior to get a new card they need to provide their Social Security Number.
Quick tip: Don’t give out for Social Security Number unless there’s a legitimate business need.
Telemarketing scams are prevalent because the caller can pretend to be anyone – including family members. In some scams, thieves may be remarkably charming or friendly. Or they may be threatening, attempting to frighten you into sending them money.
A common phone scam is known as the pigeon drop, and it works like this: The caller may tell you they have $100,000 in an account, but they need your help accessing the money. The caller explains if you help them, they’ll split the money with you, if you can put up $5,000 to pay legal fees.
This is just one of countless phone scams designed to come between you and your money. Other schemes revolve around trying to collect on an outstanding debt that you don’t owe, offering you “free trials” that you’ll actually be billed for, and financial scams that ask you to send money to improve your credit or invest in a company’s hot stocks.
Quick tip: It’s OK to be impolite! Just hang up the phone, and block or don’t answer unknown numbers.
It’s alarmingly easy to find people’s personal information online. Even senior citizens who may not have much of an online presence can still be connected to their family members with a bit of internet sleuthing.
With little background, a scammer can do a quick Google search of someone’s name and find details like childrens’ and grandchildren’s names, addresses, employers, and names of the schools they’re attending.
That’s why grandparent scams work: Thieves call, text or email the older adult, pretending to be a grandchild. They may claim to have had a car accident, or gotten arrested, or are injured or sick in a foreign country. They beg for help and frantically ask the older adult not to tell their family members. Then they request that money be sent immediately.
Quick tip: Don’t be panicked into immediately sending money. And don’t volunteer personal information. Tell the caller you’ll call them back on the usual number, then hang up and verify the story.
These scams are usually emails designed to look like they came from a company the older adult has interacted with regularly. The scammers are after a Social Security Number, bank account numbers or other personal information, using assorted tricks to get email recipients to click on a link to disclose info, such as passwords. From there, phishers may steal money from assorted accounts, use the victim’s identity or gain access to their computer.
Quick tip: Use different passwords for all your online accounts. And check the “from” email address: If it says firstname.lastname@example.org or comes from an address with a foreign domain, it’s fake.
THE FOUR P’S TO SPOT A SCAM
1. PRETEND: Scammers PRETEND to be from an organization you know, such as a utility company or a charity – or even the IRS.
2. PROBLEM or PRIZE: Scammers tell you there’s a PROBLEM, such as you owe the government money, or that you’ve won a sweepstakes PRIZE.
3. PRESSURE: The scammer demands that you send money to them immediately, trying to PRESSURE you or threaten you into acting.
4. PAY: A scammer often insists you PAY via a money transfer company or gift card because these are very difficult to trace.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SUSPECT A SCAM
You can avoid being victimized by scammers by taking these steps:
- If somebody calls you, asking for a donation to a charity, trying to sell something or attempting to collect on a debt, tell them you don’t purchase items or donate money over the phone. Tell them you’ll need all information in writing.
- Add your number to the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call List. It’s a free and easy way to reduce the telemarketing calls you receive.
- Check your bank accounts and credit card statements monthly. If you see any suspicious activity, contact your bank or credit card company immediately. You should also monitor your credit report – and there are companies, such as creditkarma.com and experian.com, that will monitor your credit and alert you of suspicious activity, for a fee.
- Don’t share your personal or financial information over the phone – ever. Instead, ask for everything in writing before going further, or ask for their name and a phone number where you can call them back, so that you may verify what they’re telling you. Most scammers will hang up and move on to the next would-be victim. Remember, your banks or other creditors you already do business with would know much of your personal information.
- Talk to someone first. Take a moment and talk through the situation with someone you trust. Chances are good just hearing yourself explain it out loud to an impartial listener will help you hear some of the red flags you didn’t notice in the moment. Your trustworthy friend will help you spot them, too.
Let’s be clear: There are so many scams out there designed to separate us from our money. Which is why it’s so important to do your research, ask questions and remember that if something sounds too good to be true – it probably is.
The Waterford is part of Lifespace Communities, Inc., a not-for-profit, multistate system of senior living communities that currently serves more than 5,100 people. For more than 40 years, Lifespace has created beautiful spaces for seniors to thrive and celebrate life every day. With decades of success and financial stability under its belt, Lifespace has earned national respect and recognition and, even more importantly, the trust of thousands of team members, residents and their families.
Learn more about the solid reputation of The Waterford and Lifespace. Call our community at 1.888.511.5851 or complete the form on this page.