“Common Financial Scams Targeting Older Adults”
As our world becomes ever more digital, it is easier and easier for scammers to present legitimate appearing situations that end up being financial scams targeted at the elderly. I’ve personally had friends and family targeted by these scams and it really infuriates me. So, I thought it would be helpful to highlight some of the most common ways I see scammers targeting older adults these days. Please read through this and make sure you are on the lookout. Whether it is these approaches or not, trust your gut if something just doesn’t feel right.
Government Impersonation Scams
In government impersonation scams (also known as government imposter scams), scammers call unsuspecting older adults and pretend to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration, or Medicare. They may say the victim has unpaid taxes and threaten arrest or deportation if they don’t pay up immediately. Or they may say Social Security or Medicare benefits will be cut off if the victim doesn’t provide personal identifying information. This information can then be used to commit identity theft.
Government imposters may demand specific forms of payment, such as a prepaid debit card, cash, or wire transfer. Using special technology, they often “spoof” the actual phone number of a government agency or call from the same zip code (202 for Washington, D.C., for example). This can trick some people into thinking the caller is from a valid source. Remember, that 99% of the time if the government is trying to get your attention they will send their notices through the mail with official accompanying documentation.
Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
The sweepstakes scam is one many people are familiar with. Here, scammers call an older adult to tell them they’ve won a lottery or prize of some kind. If they want to claim their winnings, the older adult must send money, cash, or gift cards up front—sometimes thousands of dollars’ worth—to cover supposed taxes and processing fees. Scammers may impersonate well-known sweepstakes organizations (like Publishers Clearing House) to build trust among their victims. Of course, no prize is ever delivered. Sometimes, fraudsters are able to convince the older adult to send even more money by telling them their winnings will arrive soon. Many continue to call their victims for months and even years after defrauding them out of an initial sum of money.
Robo Calls and Phone Scams
One common robocall is the “Can you hear me?” call. When the older person says “yes,” the scammer records their voice and hangs up. The criminal then has a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges on items like stolen credit cards.
Robocalls take advantage of sophisticated, automated phone technology to dial large numbers of households from anywhere in the world. While there are legal uses for this technology, robocalls can also be used to carry out a variety of scams on trusting older adults who answer the phone. Some robocalls may claim that a warranty is expiring on the victim’s car or electronic device, and payment is needed to renew it. Like with government impersonation calls, scammers often spoof the number from which they’re calling to make it appear as if the call is from a reputed organization.
Yet another popular phone scam is the “impending lawsuit” scam. In this case, the victim receives an urgent, frightening call from someone claiming to be from a government or law enforcement agency (like the police). They are told if they don’t pay a fine by a certain deadline, they will be sued or arrested for some made-up offense.
Computer Tech Support Scams
Technical support scams prey on older people’s lack of knowledge about computers and cybersecurity. A pop-up message or blank screen usually appears on a computer or phone, telling the victim their device is damaged and needs fixing. When they call the support number for help, the scammer may either request remote access to the older person’s computer and/or demand they pay a fee to have it repaired. In 2021, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) fielded 13,900 tech support fraud complaints from older victims who suffered nearly $238 million in losses.
“Tech support fraud is increasingly common and targets some of the most vulnerable individuals. Above all, remember that whether it’s a phone call or a website, legitimate tech support won’t ever proactively seek you out to fix an issue,” said Emma McGowan, a privacy and Security expert at Avast.
Behind the numbers are real people who have endured devastating losses at the hands of cybercriminals. In 2021, a man from Illinois lost his life savings to scammers pretending to be an employee of a known antivirus company. Under the guise of giving the man a refund for unused software, these scam artists gained remote access to his bank account and home equity line of credit. They ultimately made away with nearly $200,000—money that was never recovered.
If you’re wondering how to avoid tech support scams, there are a number of things you can do. Learn how to protect yourself and if you suspect you’ve been a victim, follow these steps from our partner Avast.
What to Do if You’ve Been the Victim of a Scam
Scams are specially designed to catch us off guard, and they can happen to anyone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you think you’re a victim. Keep handy the phone numbers of resources that can help, including the local police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts), and Adult Protective Services. To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government sponsored national resource line, at: 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website. You can also report scams online to the FTC. Sharing your experience can help prevent it from happening to another older adult.