Top 5 Scams Targeting Seniors: Help Older Relatives Better Protect Themselves

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Elderly people lose an estimated $2.9 billion per year to an ever-increasing number of financial exploitation schemes. Sadly, their isolation, assumed lack of technical knowledge, and greater potential for confusion or dementia can make them a common target for scams—ranging from someone pretending that a grandchild needs money to a fake technical support person trying to steal login credentials.

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging just released a paper on the most-reported scams targeting seniors. Reach out to a loved one today to help better protect them from these common scams.

Read: Identity Theft Affects Every Generation

#1 – IRS Impersonation Scam

IRS impersonators call their victims claiming to work for the IRS or another law enforcement agency, even giving out fake IRS badge numbers. Victims are told that they owe taxes that must be paid immediately under the threat of arrest, suspension of a business or driver’s license, or deportation.

Many of these IRS scammers go after the most vulnerable targets, including elderly people and immigrants. Case in point: an older woman in San Diego paid $12,300 to IRS impersonators who threatened her with arrest for tax violations, and a Chicago man paid more than $5,000 to scammers who threatened him with arrest and deportation.

Read: Is Someone Calling You Claiming to Work for the IRS? Consider Hanging Up

#2 – Robocalls and Unsolicited Phone Calls

A robocall is an automated phone call–usually made en masse from an autodialer—used to send a prerecorded message. Although robocalls can be used for legitimate purposes, such as appointment reminders, public service announcements, and political campaigns, they are also often used illegally for phone scams.

Unwanted calls are the top consumer complaint reported to the Federal Communications Commission. Government watchdog agencies believe that consumers get an estimated 98 million robocalls daily, with fraud from these unwanted calls totaling about $9.5 billion per year.

Technological advances have made it even easier for criminals to make robocalls from anywhere in the world, and use spoofing to disguise the calls with fake caller ID information to make it look like the call originates from a local number, a government agency, or even a police station.

Fortunately, technology can be used to empower consumers as well. The best way to help better protect an elderly family member or friend from robocalls may be to help them set up their phone to block spam calls. USA Today offers a list of call blocking options depending on phone maker and carrier. The FCC also provides a list of consumer tips to stop unwanted robocalls and avoid phone scams.

#3 – Sweepstakes Scam or Jamaican Lottery Scam

The Better Business Bureau reports that sweepstakes, lottery, and prize scams often disproportionately focus on elderly victims, who also suffer the largest losses. In fact, there is an entire worldwide industry of sweepstakes mailings that specifically target seniors.

Victims typically get a mailing, phone call, or email saying that they have won a lottery, sweepstakes, or other prize. But there’s a catch: before collecting the so-called winnings, the victim is asked to pay a fee or taxes by giving scammers their bank account information, wiring them money, or paying through a gift card.

One particularly aggressive prize scam is the Jamaican lottery scam, in which fraudsters contact victims saying they have won cash, vacations, vehicles, or other prizes. Although there are many versions of this scam, they all have one trait in common: the victim is asked to send money in order to collect the prize. Some victims of the Jamaican lottery scam report that the scammers were hostile, even threatening physical violence or repeatedly harassing the victims or their family to disclose bank account details.

The U.S. Embassy is vehement in its advice to avoid lottery and prize scams, especially those that purport to be foreign lotteries, advising consumers not to believe that they have won a contest for which they never entered and not to believe any offer or prize that requires upfront payment of a fee.

#4 – Computer Tech Support Scams

The criminals behind computer tech support scams pretend that they work in the technical support department of a well-known computer company. Comcast, Dell, Microsoft, and Norton are all popular ruses.

The scammers often create a sense of urgency by telling victims that they have detected a virus or malware, or that their computer is about to crash and lose all data. The scammer offers to fix the technical problem—for a fee—but that may not be the end of the scam. If the victim allows the scammer to have remote access of their computer, the scammer may install malware to scan files in search of personal or financial information to later commit identity theft.

Nearly half of all tech support scams may begin with a pop-up window or alert that appears on the victim’s computer screen with a phone number to call for help.

The FTC provides tips on avoiding computer tech support scams, including contacting the tech support listed on the original packaging or receipt. If you are computer-savvy, one way you can help better protect an elderly relative is to offer to serve as their primary tech support.

#5 – Elder Financial Abuse

According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), one in nine seniors has reported being abused, neglected, or exploited within the last year, and one in twenty seniors has experienced some form of financial mistreatment.

Criminals may target older adults for financial exploitation because they believe seniors have more cash to steal or are less likely to carefully review their financial statements. The various types of financial exploitation of seniors may include: opening credit in the victim’s name, cashing a check without permission, forging signatures, stealing money or possessions, or tricking the victim into signing a Power of Attorney, will, or other legal document.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the abuser may be a family member, friend, or acquaintance who takes advantage of a victim’s cognitive decline and diminished capacity.

One of the best ways to safeguard against financial elder abuse may be a strong support system for elderly family members and loved ones.

Fight Back with Education

There are resources to help seniors avoid these scams. The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging provides a fraud hotline at 1-855-303-9470. The AARP also offers a free Fraud Watch helpline at 1-877-908-3360.

Read: Identity Theft Affects Every Generation

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