Every year, thieves target individuals for access to their personal information and money, and they tend to focus on older people. Seniors lose more than $3 billion to fraud each year, according to the FBI. If you haven’t been approached by a scammer yet, you could face a scheme in the years to come. Sometimes family members, especially relatives who are caring for elderly people, are even behind the attack.
Some of the most common senior citizen scams include:
- Charity scams.
- Funeral scams.
- Scams by government imposters.
- Grandparent scams.
- Internet scams.
- Investment scams.
- Health insurance scams.
- Reverse mortgage scams.
- Love scams.
- Lottery scams.
Here’s a breakdown of how these senior citizen scams work, as well as what to do to avoid falling prey to an attack.
If there is a hurricane or other natural disaster in your area, a criminal may call you and ask for donations from a non-profit organization that is working to rebuild the area or help families in need. They will often want to know your bank account or credit card details, which they can use to access your funds. Do not agree to donate to charities over the phone or on first approach. Instead, investigate the organization and find a number to call if you’re interested in donating.
If you place an obituary in a local publication after the death of a loved one, a thief could contact you and insist that your deceased relative left a debt that must be paid. In another variation of this scam, the criminal may attend the funeral service to gather information about you before asking for money to cover an unpaid debt. Someone claiming to be from the funeral home might call you and insist that there are additional charges that have not yet been paid. For all these attempts, refuse to send money immediately and ask for written documentation of the expense.
Government imposter scams
You might receive phone calls from people claiming to be from the IRS or Social Security Administration demanding immediate payment of unpaid taxes or asking for personal information in order to continue receiving your Social Security or unemployment benefits. Health Insurance. The scammer could use a technique called spoofing that makes the incoming phone number look legitimate. The caller is likely to ask you for information or demand that you make a payment, which may need to be in the form of a gift card.
“The IRS and SSA will never initiate contact with people through a phone call, so you can be sure the person calling you is a scammer,” says Steve Weisman, attorney and blog author Scamicide, which provides information on the latest scams.
In this scenario, a person will pose as the grandchild of the person who answers the phone and asks for money. The caller can pretend they have an emergency, like a car accident or a problem with the law, and don’t want anyone to know. They might ask you to send them money or gift cards.
“Scammers often harvest the information they need to make the call seem legitimate from obituaries and social media,” Weisman says. “Setting up a code word that the grandchild can use in a real emergency is a good thing to do.”
If you share information about yourself on social media, you could be targeted by online scammers. Internet scammers can find personal information about you that is available online and use it to craft a scenario that might motivate you to provide funds or share more information.
“A client of mine recently had a lot of money scammed through Facebook,” says Patrick Simasko, senior attorney at Simasko Law in Mount Clemens, Michigan. “The scammer pretended to be an army officer and claimed he needed the money to come back from Afghanistan and visit his children.” If you get a message asking you to click on a link or share your identity details or make a payment, tap “remove”.
You might be contacted by someone claiming to be a financial adviser, real estate investor or wealth manager who promises an attractive investment opportunity or big returns if you send them funds. These scams will take your money and give you nothing back. Before sending contributions to a new investment, consult a trusted advisor with proper credentials and avoid quick decisions.
Someone may contact you claiming to be a Medicare representative who can help you save money by getting some form of additional coverage. The caller may ask for personal information or verify account numbers, and even have information about you. If you receive a Medicare-related call, email, or text message, ignore it. If you have questions about your health coverage, contact Medicare directly.
Reverse Mortgage Scams
If you own your own home, you might be contacted by someone claiming that you could access some of the equity in your home with a reverse mortgage. They may offer to appraise your home for a fee, give you an invalid home value, and ask you to sign up with inaccurate loan documents. Don’t respond to requests asking you to share details about your home or make a payment for a reverse mortgage. If you want to get a reverse mortgage, contact a reputable lender or advisor in your area and discuss your options.
If you join an online dating site, you might be approached by imposters who express interest in starting a relationship. After they talk on the phone or start dating, the scammer will ask for money to help pay their utility bill, parking ticket, home repairs, or something else. The diet might last for the long haul, especially if you’ve been dating for a year or more. To avoid being a victim, research the people who contact you through an online dating site. If you are unsure, ask someone you trust to assess the situation and avoid asking for money.
A fraudster might contact you to congratulate you on winning the lottery. They may send you a fake check, which may initially look real until it is rejected by the bank, and you may be asked to pay a fee or cover taxes. Jim White, an attorney and founder of JC White Law Group in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has a client who was told his wife, who has dementia, entered and won $15 million in an international competition, but the client was then asked to pay the fee.
“If you’re told an incompetent person has either won a prize or taken on an obligation, look into it carefully,” White says. “Do not allow anyone to send you money in any way that you must pass on to someone else.”