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8 Common Senior Citizen Scams: What They Are and How to Avoid Them

Emotional Wellbeing | October 10, 2023

An elderly man shrugs in frustration from having to deal with elder fraud.

New gadgets and smart devices have helped integrate our world – allowing us to bank, call friends, store memories, and access information at a moment’s notice. While these technological advances have made our lives more convenient, they also bring more opportunities for scam artists to access your sensitive information. 

From pretending to be a loved one or posing as a manager at your local bank – there are a wide array of new ways that scammers attempt to trick you into giving up sensitive data and financial information. While their tactics may be new, their goal is still the same – stealing your hard-earned money. 

Understanding the warning signs will help you avoid this unfortunate situation and protect your valuable assets. Let’s break down why seniors are targeted heavily by scammers, what common scams to look for, and how you can avoid being scammed all together.

What is Elder Fraud and Why do Scammers Target Seniors?

Elder fraud is the general term for any scam that targets older adults – exploiting them in hopes of stealing their valuable assets and data. Senior scams typically involve a scammer who is trying to deceive an older adult by pretending to be a trusted friend or employee with false promises of goods or services.

Seniors account for more than $3 billion in annual losses due to fraud. While they aren’t the only ones falling for these scams and losing money, there are a few reasons seniors can be susceptible to them.

Many seniors, especially those who began planning for retirement early on, have been saving money for most of their lives and tend to have a high net worth – with adults over 50 owning 83 percent of US household wealth. This, partnered with potential lack of technological skills, makes seniors prime targets.

8 Common Scams Targeting Seniors to Avoid

The Grandparent Scam

The grandparent scam is a common scheme run by fraudsters claiming that the victim’s grandchild is in trouble. The scammer, pretending to be a police officer, calls saying that their grandchild has been in an accident or is involved in a crime. 

It is not uncommon that the scammer will know the name of the target’s grandchild as well as other identifying information found online to make the scam more believable. Scammers will then ask the senior to take out large sums of money or make a wire transfer to “save” their grandchild.

If you find yourself in this situation, take a moment to pause and consider the credibility of this caller. The police will never place a call like this – and will never ask for money to “save” your grandchild. We recommend hanging up and getting in touch with either your grandchild or their parents to confirm your suspicions.

Online Romance Scams

Many seniors feel lonely during their golden years – turning to dating sites to find a friend and partner to enjoy their remaining retirement. Sadly, what should be a safe space to make a connection with others like them can often be filled with scammers.

The online romance scam typically involves a scammer who pretends to be a suitable partner interested in getting to know you. The scammer will try and lure their romance marks off sites that may be monitored and onto third-party messaging apps that are not secure. 

After spending some time talking with their mark, the scammer will attempt to request money for one reason or another. This scam targets individuals who feel they need to send the money to continue the “relationship” with the scammer. 

Remember to never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. There are plenty of other seniors looking for companionship and they would never ask you to send them money to continue your relationship.

Account Takeover Scams

The account takeover scam involves scammers that send fake text messages alleging there’s big trouble with your internet account, a credit card, bank account or shopping order on Amazon. They claim there is an issue, and you need to click their link to find out what it is.

Remember, don’t click on links in emails and texts that you haven’t asked for. Call your bank or credit card company to check for a problem. The best thing you can do is take a step back and evaluate the legitimacy of the message. 

Government Imposter Scam

‍In this senior scam, fraudsters claim to be representatives from a well-known government agency such as the IRS or SSA. It is not uncommon for the scammer to fake their caller ID or parrot your social security number to make their claim seem more legitimate.

There are a wide variety of government imposter scams including: 

  • Medicare scams
  • IRS scams
  • Social Security scams
  • FBI or law enforcement scams

While the agency the scammer claims to represent may change, their end goal is still the same – to rob you of your hard-earned income. It’s critical to remember that these agencies will almost never reach out to you over the phone — especially if it’s something as grave as a crime. If they do call, hang up immediately and call the agency’s official phone number. You can explain to them the situation and they will help you determine the legitimacy of the previous call.

False Investment Scam

‍Seniors work their entire lives to achieve financial security throughout their retirement. Unfortunately, this puts them most at risk of false investments designed to steal their hard-earned money.

In an investment scam, fraudsters pretend to be a financial advisor with a lucrative investment opportunity. This is usually an attempt to extract transaction fees or steal “investments” from their targets.

To avoid these types of scams, remember the number one rule of fraud – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Tech Support Scam

In this type of scam, the fraudster masquerades as a tech support representative from a company you trust like Apple or Microsoft. They’ll claim that your computer or device is at risk to trick you into granting them remote access or paying for software that you don’t need.

Typically, the goal is to trick the senior into downloading what they think is helpful software when in reality its actually malware that opens up the potential for cyber-attacks that target the victim’s banking information.

Be cautious when a representative reaches out and avoid clicking on any unknown links. If you are concerned about the security of your device, contact a family member or trusted advisor who can help you better understand if you are having any tech issues.

Charity Scam

‍Seniors’ willingness to help others make them high target for charity scams. In this scam, fraudsters pretend to be a legitimate charity to steal donations and personal information. These scams are especially common in the wake of a natural disaster.

They’ll claim to be helping victims and solicit donations – but once they get their hands on your money or personal information, they vanish. Avoid making donations over the phone. If you plan to donate to an organization or charity, always call their primary phone number on their website. 

How to Avoid Senior Scams

If you’re worried about falling prey to elder fraud, rest easy knowing there are plenty of ways to prevent it from happening. While their tactics may vary, there are a few basic practices that can help keep you safe from scammers.

  • Add extra layers of security to your sensitive accounts. Many websites now offer 2-step authentication that can help you keep your accounts secure. Enabling this extra security measure can keep scammers out of your accounts, even if they have access to your email and password.
  • Avoid sending money through non-traditional means. Scammers will often ask you to send them money via wire transfer, cryptocurrency, payment app, or gift card. If someone is asking you to transfer money to them through one of these means, they could be a scammer. 
  • Be wary of accepting anything that seems too good to be true. This could involve winning a raffle you did not enter, a refund for something you did not purchase, or the opportunity for free medical care. If it feels like you just won the lottery, you may want to reevaluate the situation. If you are unsure of the legitimacy of a prize, don’t hesitate to ask a family member or trusted advisor to see if they think it is a scam.
  • Watch out for incoming communications. Scammers can disguise themselves when making phone calls and emails, making it look like it is coming from a legitimate company or government agency. It is often best to avoid communication and the sharing of private information. Before responding, look up the organization’s actual contact information online and contact them that way for a more secure option.

If you fear that a scammer has tricked you into sharing information or handing over money, you can report the fraud to the FTC on ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Protect Yourself from Senior Scams

Unfortunately, some people will always look to prey on the most vulnerable members of society. With modern technology, scammers have more avenues to exploit people than ever before. By knowing what to watch out for and following our tips above, you should feel more confident in your ability to spot and avoid senior scams.

Are you looking for a safe and secure retirement community? National Church Residences offers quality senior living options around the country that can help you live out your golden years in peace. Use our online community finder to find a retirement community that’s right for you.

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