Jargon-heavy phone calls from insurance companies or the IRS are difficult to understand at the best of times, and sometimes it feels nearly impossible to distinguish the real calls from the scams. Many scammers target the elderly specifically, so we must be prepared to detect and take action against senior scams to protect ourselves and those we love who are in their golden years.
Scams are sometimes difficult to recognize. Because of this, even major corporations have been the targets of phishing schemes and other scams, but while many of these third-party scams exist, the sad truth is that many senior scams are committed by family members or other people known to the victim. Scammers prey on trust, whether they do so deliberately over the internet or phone or if they justify their actions because they are close to the senior they are scamming.
Unfortunately many fraud cases go unreported because, according to the FBI, people may not know how to report them. Sometimes senior scams go unresolved because victims are ashamed to admit being tricked or are even afraid that their relatives will lose confidence in their judgment and ability to manage their finances. Even though people of all ages and situations have fallen victim to scams, seniors especially are understandably hesitant to have control of their own affairs taken away.
Common Senior Scams—Recognize and Retaliate
The best senior scam protection is information. Being able to recognize a scam, no matter what one’s age, is a critical skill in this, the Information Age. Here are some common scams and their calling cards:
Tech Support Fraud
In this common trick, scammers prey on seniors under the assumption that they are unfamiliar with technology. False warnings about viruses loom large on the screen, followed by pop-ups that offer help (complete with a false phone number to call for IT assistance). Once the victim calls or messages the “service,” scammers on the other end ask for remote access to the senior’s computer for “tech support” but instead spend the time rifling through important and sensitive information stored on that computer.
Identity theft can, unfortunately, be committed in almost numerous ways. We’ll discuss three examples:
- Pharming. These scams persuade people to visit fake websites disguised as legitimate ones. These sites always ask for personal information: passwords, account numbers, etc.
- Phishing. Phishing is a technique that involves sending fraudulent emails designed to trick the victim into revealing sensitive information. These messages almost always offer a false sense of urgency and include a link or attachment. When the senior clicks on these, they may be asked to “confirm” private information, or a virus might be downloaded directly to their computer which relays such information to the scammer.
- Smishing. Smishing is the pithy new nomenclature of phishing conducted through text or SMS. It works much the same as phishing, coming from a seemingly reputable sender.
Confidence fraud is usually conducted on social media or dating sites. Scammers appeal to the emotions of their victims and gain their trust by pretending to develop a friendship or a romance. The scammer then asks to “borrow” money because they “need help.”
Non-Delivery or Non-Payment
In these schemes, scammers create fake shopping websites or social media ads that lead to fraudulent links. Any money spent buying “products” on these sites goes directly into a scammer’s pocket.
Fraudulent Calls from the IRS or SSA
Sometimes demands for money seem like they are coming from an official capacity, especially the International Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration. These calls threaten arrest or legal action if bank account information is not confirmed or a “deficit payment” is not made. Sometimes the ploy is to reactivate a “suspended” social security number. It is important to remember that official organizations will not call you to ask for sensitive information.
Protection Measures Against Senior Scams
The fight against senior scams is a group effort. Up-to-date education about scamming techniques goes a long way toward preventing financial losses and the frustration and fear that accompanies being scammed. For in-depth safety measures to thwart scammers, see our article about senior scam protection, but we’ll list four basics here:
- Never give personal information to an unknown party. If a caller seems official, hang up and call the official number, not just the number in your caller ID, before you confirm any sensitive information.
- Never click on links or attachments from unfamiliar sources.
- If you need technical assistance, reach out to a reputable organization.
- If you are uncertain about a plea for money, do not be embarrassed to ask for a second opinion from someone (or multiple someones) you trust.
In the event that you or another senior you care about is scammed, the proper course is to submit a tip to the FBI. Provide all the information you can, especially dates, original documents, methods of communication and payment, and transcripts of conversation. This can help you find restitution and prevent others from the same senior scams.