Scams targeting older adults take many forms, from callers posing as grandchildren in need of financial assistance to emails directing people to fake bank websites that steal personal information. The techniques evolve over time, but the outcome is always the same: many seniors end up losing money.
The isolation many older adults are experiencing during the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. While technology helps seniors stay connected with loved ones, it also opens new doors for senior mobile phone scams and other fraud.
Common schemes targeting this demographic include:
Telemarketing/Internet Fraud: The crimes in this category are legendary, like the case of the Nigerian letter fraud operation in which fictitious government officials offer to share an opportunity to transfer millions of dollars out of the country—all you need to do is provide bank account information to receive the funds! Advance-fee schemes also fall into this category, characterized by a victim offered an “opportunity” to pay money in advance for something they never actually receive.
General Investment Schemes: Seniors are often targeted for too-good-to-be-true ploys because they’re dealing with fixed-income situations, and are seeing the cost of living steadily outstripping their ability to cope. As a result, “get rich” schemes resonate with many unsuspecting people.
Grandparent scams: This is an area that tugs in the emotions of seniors. The fraudster has a call placed to the grandparent describing some sort of emergency—frequently a need for bail money—that needs to be resolved by providing bank information or transferring money.
Fraudulent charity schemes: Fraudsters often spring up in the wake of disaster situations, like hurricanes, earthquakes, or any form of natural disaster. They often take the form of a telephone or email solicitation, appealing to the natural instinct in many—especially seniors—to want to help others.
There are ways to safeguard assets and to prevent such scams from occurring in the first place. While these may not prevent 100% of fraud attempts—after all, the scams get more sophisticated all the time—they can certainly help put important protections in place.
How to stop scam calls: Add landline or mobile phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry. You can also block unwanted calls on the mobile phones themselves: Apple devices running iOS 13 or later can silence unknown callers, as can Android devices running Android 6.0 and newer. There are also a number of third-party apps designed to block robocalls available on the Apple App and Google Play stores.
Reduce electronic and physical junk mail: If you receive something that looks like junk mail in your inbox, it’s best to mark it as spam so your email service’s spam filter recognizes it next time.Even if an email looks legitimate, it’s always best to check the email address it came from before opening it or clicking on anything in the message. Emails sent from scammers usually contain various numbers or symbols rather than the simple email address of a legitimate institution. The same goes for web addresses, which also can be spoofed. You can google the name of the bank website where you’ve supposedly been directed to see if it matches.
People also can request not to receive certain kinds of U.S. mail, as well as unwanted commercial email, through a service called DMAchoice. In addition, there is also a service available to let you opt out of receiving prescreened credit and insurance offers.
Monitor your money: Seniors can safeguard their money by setting up direct deposits for income from Social Security, pensions and dividends so that physical checks aren’t sent to their home.
People should also keep an eye on spending activity by asking their bank and credit-card companies to send them—or trusted loved ones—alerts of suspicious activity or charges that exceed a certain amount. Most banks allow customers to create custom alerts.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been the victim of fraud, you can call the National Elder Fraud hotline at (833) 372-8311, and report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting the agency’s website .