It is an unfortunate fact that seniors are often most at risk for financial scams. Their tendency to be more isolated and less technologically savvy leave them vulnerable to the ever more sophisticated tactics of the modern day con artist. Even more heartbreaking is that many perpetrators are close to the victim, often family members, caretakers or friends. 90% of reported elder abuse comes from their adult children, grandchildren and other family members.
Keep yourself or your loved one safer by following some common sense prevention tips:
- Never buy from or give to anyone who calls or visits unannounced. Make sure everything comes in writing. Tell any caller that this is your rule, no exceptions.
- Shred receipts and documents with credit card or social security numbers.
- Sign up for the “Do Not Call” list. Let unknown numbers go to voicemail.
- Use direct deposit rather than paper checks to receive benefits; don’t leave mail unattended in an unlocked mailbox.
- Be skeptical. Unsolicited and “too good to be true” offers are often just that. Do your research before signing up, giving personal information or sending money. Ask a friend or family member if they know anything about the company or offer.
Signs of Abuse to Look For
- Unusual or large withdrawal amounts from bank accounts or charges on credit cards.
- Looking suddenly stressed, unkempt, afraid or confused.
- Unpaid rent, mortgage, medical, or other regular bills start piling up.
- A caregiver is preventing you from seeing the senior.
- Excessive amounts of sweepstakes mail, subscriptions or free gifts in the home, suggesting they have made it onto a “sucker list.”
If you notice these signs or have other suspicions, you can call the confidential Adult Protective Services (APS) program, available in each state. The APS investigates and monitors reports of elder abuse, exploitation and neglect, as well as abuse of younger adults with severe disabilities. In California, call 1-833-401-0832 or visit their website. APS is available 24/7.
The 10 Most Common Financial Scams
- Government Impostor Scam — Imposters call saying they are from the IRS, Social Security or Medicare and threaten penalties for unpaid taxes or other made up infractions. The IRS will always send a request in writing.
- Grandparent Scam — A caller will pretend to be a grandchild to ask for money or get the older adult involved in some scheme, usually involving prepaid gift cards.
- Medicare/Health Insurance Scam — More common now with COIVD-19 health worries, perpetrators will pretend to be from Medicare and try to get personal information or provide bogus services.
- Computer Tech Support Scam — A pop-up message will appear online claiming that the device or software needs fixing. It will ask them to click a link or call a number and then try to get money out of them to “fix” the issue, often requiring remote access to their device.
- Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams — Scammers will inform the victim that they have won a prize, and the senior will be sent a check to deposit. The scammer then takes a fee or tax from their account before the check bounces and that money is taken back.
- Robocalls & Phone Scams — The rise of robocalls is a scourge for us all, but unsuspecting seniors are more likely to answer the calls. Simply saying “hello” can record their voice and be used to authorize charges on a stolen credit card.
- Romance Scams — Con artists set up fake dating profiles and exploit lonely seniors, usually pretending to need a visa to come from overseas and extorting money from the senior, often through prepaid gift cards or money transfer.
- Internet and Email Fraud — Seniors unfamiliar with the latest in technology tend to fall for internet phishing pop-ups and emails that, when a link is clicked, can download a virus onto their computer. Or they may convince them to give personal information that is then used to steal financial information.
- Financial Abuse — Often perpetrated by someone the senior knows, elder financial abuse scams may try to gain control of a senior’s money, financial accounts, or other assets. Threats to withhold care and blackmail are common tactics.
- Charity Scams — Scammers will pretend to represent a charity or good cause and dupe seniors into donating money to their “fundraiser.”
If you or a loved one think you have been the victim of a scam, immediately call the bank or credit card company, cancel any connected accounts and reset your passwords and PINs.
Anytime a caller or website asks for payment via prepaid gift card or money transfer, that is a red flag. Those forms of payments have little to no way to track and require no identification to access. Always go to sites directly rather than through an emailed link, especially if you plan to enter personal information like credit card numbers. Social security numbers should never be shared over the phone or entered online. Unless you went to the site directly and can confirm it is secure and necessary.
Remember that government agencies will always contact you through the post office or mail, not over the phone. Never give your financial and Social Security information over the phone unless you are the one who made the call.
If you or a loved one were affected by any type of scam, report it to the AARP Fraud Watch Network. You can also find advice on spotting and avoiding scams, actions to take if you were a victim of fraud, emotional support and other resources. Call 1-877-908-3360 or visit their website to learn more.