8 Strategies to Avoid Senior Scammers
1. ONLINE SHOPPING SCAMS
With the variety of products offered by online retailers, it is no surprise that people are turning to the internet for their shopping needs. Scammers have taken advantage and 'set up shop' posing as online retail stores with professional-looking websites and domains. Customers are often lured in by low prices, but the advertised products differ drastically from what is received—if the buyer receives anything. Before purchasing from an unknown seller, a savvy buyer should read reviews about others' experiences with the retailer. Be especially wary if a seller requests payment unconventionally, such as a money order or wire transfer. Last year alone, people over 60 lost at least $14 million from online shopping scams.
2. ROMANCE SCAMS
In 2020, romance scams were the leading cause of fraudulent financial loss, with total reported losses of $304 million. The increased popularity of online dating has led to an increase in romance scams. Typically, a scammer will create a fake (but very attractive!) profile on a dating or social media site and will reach out to the victim to develop a relationship via chatting or texting while avoiding in-person meet-ups and video chats. Eventually, the scammer will request money or gifts, such as gift cards, from the victim. To avoid falling victim to a romance scam, never send cash or gifts to someone you have not met.
3. TECH SUPPORT SCAMS
Technology has become increasingly central to modern society. To keep up, seniors may seek assistance from scammers posing as tech support professionals. These fraudsters take advantage of the 'client's' inexperience and sell them unnecessary products and services or charge a severe markup. The most common place to encounter these scammers is online. When browsing the internet, a pop-up warning may alert the user of a virus or other security issue on their computer. Although the message may appear official and seem urgent, it is a way to trick the user into contacting and sending money to the fraudster. When these pop-ups appear, close the tab and ignore the warning. Be sure to keep your anti-virus software up-to-date for peace of mind.
4. HEALTHCARE/MEDICARE FRAUD
Fraudsters conducting healthcare-related scams take advantage of the fact that every citizen over 65 qualifies for Medicare, making it a prime candidate for fraud. Fraudsters may pose as a Medicare representative to get seniors to share their personal information. Scammers might provide bogus services for seniors at makeshift clinics, then bill Medicare and pocket the money. Medicare scams commonly follow the latest developments and trends in medical research, such as genetic testing and COVID-19 vaccination. Contact your attorney if you are uncertain of the identity of someone requesting your Medicare information.
5. IMPOSTER SCAMS / THE "GRANDPARENT" SCAM
Imposter Scams are plentiful and diverse: Fraudsters may pose as government officials, financial institutions, charitable organizations, friends or family members to obtain money or sensitive information such as bank accounts, passwords and other personal data. In an imposter scam, a fraudster will present themselves as a familiar person or institution, either by creating an online profile or website or simply by introducing themselves as being associated with a particular organization such as a charity, the IRS or your local bank. If the fraudster is posing as someone you know personally, such as a grandchild, ask questions only your loved one would know the answer, or call your loved one to confirm whether the request is legitimate. Scammers posing as government officials may try to frighten or intimidate you by telling you your Social Security Number has been linked to criminal activity or has been suspended, or they may tell you that you have unpaid taxes and action will be taken if not paid immediately. Note that you will likely be contacted via mail if there are any issues with your taxes. If you have questions about the legitimacy of a request for payment to a charity or government institution, contact your attorney for guidance.
6. SWEEPSTAKES SCAMS/ADVANCE FEE SCAMS
In a typical sweepstakes or 'advance fee' scam, a victim will be notified that they have won a prize or are entitled to some benefit, for example, an inheritance from a foreign source. The victim is told that to receive the prize or benefit, they will first be required to pay a fee or tax upfront. Actual sweepstakes generally state "no purchase necessary," and winners should not be asked to pay money to claim the prize. Be leery and contact your attorney if you find yourself in this situation.
7. FRAUDULENT INVESTMENT SCHEMES
With older adults looking to plan for and manage their finances after retirement, fraudsters have created investment schemes targeting these individuals. From Ponzi schemes to tales of unclaimed inheritance money from a distant relative to exceedingly complex financial products, investment schemes are a tried and true way of taking advantage of people. Word of advice: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always verify the legitimacy of an organization before investing money, and contact your attorney if you have questions.
8. PHISHING/INTERNET SCAMS
Phishing emails, text messages, and phone calls are extremely popular these days. Scammers can create emails and spoof telephone numbers that appear to be associated with known institutions—it is even possible that caller ID would show the phone call as coming from a well-known establishment. Before opening any links or attachments in an email, carefully study the sender's email address to verify its legitimacy—often phony email addresses contain extra characters or numbers that wouldn't appear in an official email address.
If you receive a telephone call purporting to be from a government agency, a utility company, an online retailer, your bank, or another familiar contact, politely inform the caller that you will call them back. After you hang up, find a trusted contact number for the source through their website. Call the company back using the phone number listed on the website. Inform them that you received a call asking for money or personal information and verify if the request was legitimate. When in doubt, contact your attorney to seek a second opinion.
What To Do If You Think You've Been Scammed?
Even the most vigilant of individuals can fall victim to a savvy scam artist. If you think you have been scammed, take these steps:
1. Stop communication with the scammer immediately and report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov
2. Call your financial institutions and request they freeze your accounts.
3. If the scammer has gained access to your Social Security Number or Medicare number, notify the appropriate institution(s). If your Social Security Number was compromised, you may want to lock your credit with the three major credit bureaus to prevent the fraudster from opening new accounts or applying for loans in your name.
4. Contact the authorities, your insurer and your attorney to discuss your options.
October 7, 2022