According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the top three fraudulent scams of 2020 were:
- imposter scams that include people posing as official governmental workers, friends or family, and legitimate businesses in order to gain financial information or money;
- online shopping scams that include sellers who never deliver on promised goods or services; and
- fake calls and text messages luring people to apply for things like loans, stimulus relief, or waiting packages, most of which were related to COVID-19 pandemic.
Scams in the technology age are an unfortunate daily occurrence. Billions of dollars a year are taken from innocent people using elaborate scams that target seniors, as well as the general population. Even though law enforcement agencies work hard to recover some of this money, it is prudent to stay as educated as possible about the latest scam techniques in order to avoid them if possible, particularly as we get older and more vulnerable.
With this in mind, here are a few ways to avoid scams that target seniors.
Imposter scams can seem legitimate at first glance. This is especially true when they appear to originate from authentic sources, such as the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, trusted banks or businesses, local government officials, and so on. Nevertheless, keep in mind that anyone calling, texting, or visiting your home for account data, an account number, or any other personal information once an account has already been established should be considered suspicious. No government authority or legitimate business will request personal information, such as bank account numbers, unless you have called the organization about your own account. This is also true if the seemingly legitimate representative claims your account needs to be re-activated or that money has been won in a lottery or sweepstakes, inherited, is being refunded, or is desperately needed by a friend or family member.
Avoid responding to these types of information requests (or clicking on hyperlinks they often send in emails). Report the scam as soon as possible to the legitimate organization by calling their phone number, visiting their local office, or sending correspondence via mail or email. If unsure, look up the organization’s telephone number online or use the number printed on an account statement to call for verification before providing the information requested.
Remember, scammers can also make it seem like they are calling or messaging from a known telephone number or email address. It is not enough to take the incoming number or email address as proof.
Online Shopping Scams
It is tough to catch or recuperate lost money from online shopping scams because the “scammer” is typically gone by the time someone notices the item never arrived or the service is not legitimate.
One safeguard against this type of scam is utilizing a low-limit credit card instead of a bank debit card for all online shopping. This allows you to stop payment on a questionable item without affecting your bank account balance. Additionally, if the shopping card is ever compromised, hackers will not have access to your bank account. They only have access to your shopping credit card with a low limit.
Regarding service scams, such as technical support cons, it is important to remember the same rule stated above. Technical support representatives typically do not call clients. If technical support is needed for anything you purchased, call the company’s customer service department directly. Avoid pop-up advertisements on your computer, telephone calls, emails, and text messages from technical support representatives claiming they have detected things like computer viruses, security breaches, faulty software, and more.
COVID-19 and Other Scams
Like the imposter scams above, callers or messages claiming to need information for stimulus checks, vaccine appointments, and loans are becoming more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same applies to anyone claiming to need money for waiting packages, wire transfers, warranties, life insurance, etc. Be suspicious of calls requesting bail money for family members in jail and calls from people saying you owe back taxes that you must pay immediately or be arrested yourself. These are popular scams that are described in detail on the FTC website.
Lastly, scams that personally target individual seniors can also be found on common social media, senior dating websites, caregiving or pet sitting apps, and neighborhood communication platforms. When using social media, apps, websites, and platforms, refrain from posting detailed personal information as much as possible. Make sure your account security settings are updated and be suspicious of messages asking for personal information or account data, even if it appears to come from someone you know and trust. When in doubt, reach out to the individual outside the platform to verify if the message is legitimate.
Understanding these ways to avoid scams that target seniors not only helps you stay current on the latest scam techniques, but this knowledge can also stop financial exploitation in its tracks.