Latest Top Scams Targeting Seniors
The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging recently released their 2018 report on the top ten scams targeted to seniors as reported to their toll-free fraud hotline 1-855-303-9470. With today’s technology it is not only easy for criminals and cheats to reach millions of citizens but also easy to misrepresent themselves and their organizations. While I feel disheartened by the sheer volume of fraud taking place, I share the government’s belief that raising public awareness together with rigorous prosecution of offenders will make a difference. This is my small addition to improving public knowledge about avoiding these nefarious rackets.
- IRS impersonation scams. If you receive a call purportedly from the IRS, just hang up. They contact you by letter, not by phone. And they will never call a taxpayer to demand payment, to ask for a credit or debit card number over the phone, to threaten to send police to have a taxpayer arrested, or to use a special payment method for taxes, especially prepaid debit card or gift cards.
- Robocalls and unsolicited phone calls. Do not give out any personal information in response to any unsolicited incoming call. Period. If the caller claims to be from a company or government agency seeking personal information, hang up and then call the phone number on your account statement, in the phonebook, or on the company’s or agency’s website to find out if the request was legitimate.
- Sweepstakes/Jamaican lottery scams. Evidently this is a popular one, and the U.S. government has been working with the Jamaican government to extradite the criminals behind it. It goes without saying that you should never send money to anyone for any reason (processing fees, taxes, whatever) based on an unsolicited promise of any kind, let alone that you’ve won a lottery.
- Computer tech support scams. Most commonly this involves the scammer telling you they represent Microsoft or Apple support and that your computer has a virus. They direct you to some data or benign error message in your computer as proof that they have remote access, although in reality the data or message is actually common to all computers. Other variants involve getting you to click on a link in an email that loads ransomware onto your computer, subsequently locking it and requiring you to send money to get it fixed. To avoid the risk of ransomware, never click on a link in an email unless you are 110% sure it is legitimate. When contacted by a third party out of the blue, never give them access to your computer. If you believe your computer has been infected with something, call your security software company directly or find a local IT shop to help. And make sure you are keeping all your computer’s anti-virus software, firewalls, and popup blockers up to date.
- Elder financial abuse. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) believes seniors lose more than $2.9 billion annually due to financial exploitation. Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone, and require support with daily activities. Perpetrators include family members, paid homecare workers, financial advisors, legal guardians, or just plain criminals reaching out through mail, telephone, or the internet. If you believe a senior you know might be the victim of fraud or abuse, you should contact your local county’s Adult Protective Services.
- Romance scams. Fraudsters using online dating services falsely assume the identities of needy U.S. soldiers or otherwise pretend to fall in love with victims they meet online for the purpose of getting access to their money. This is one of the most heartbreaking scams because con artists exploit seniors’ loneliness and vulnerability. The committee does not provide any specific advice except to be highly cautious about anybody you meet online.
Additionally there are swindlers misrepresenting themselves as being from the Social Security Administration, from local or national law enforcement organizations, and from banks or other companies with whom you do business. As with the scams above, if you understand that these organizations will never reach out to you by phone without first mailing letters explaining any issues, you can avoid becoming a victim by simply hanging up the phone.
The Senate committee report includes lots of stories about actual victims together with lists of resources. You can access the report here: https://www.collins.senate.gov/sites/default/files/2019%20Fraud%20Book.pdf