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Senior Scams to Watch Out For in 2021

elderly man checking his credit card statement in his senior apartment

Scammers are getting more sophisticated in their attempts to steal your identity and slip their hand in your wallet. They also frequently target older adults, knowing they’re more likely to have large retirement savings, or are more vulnerable and easily manipulated due to cognitive decline. According to a Senate report, older adults lose $2.9 billion each year to financial scams. And they have little chance of getting their money back. Many scammers operate outside the U.S., beyond the reach of state and local law.


Protect Your Personal Details

You may already shred personal documents to safeguard your name and address, bank account numbers and other data. But have you recently entered an online contest? Filled out a survey? Shared personal updates on Facebook? These perfectly legitimate activities are ways that companies are able to collect details such as your name, address, age, and income for sales and marketing purposes. Unfortunately, this information is often sold to others, legitimately or as part of a scam. Social media postings are another easy way a scammer can learn more about you and how to target you. To protect yourself, be wary of sharing your whereabouts or personal information online, and restrict who can see what you post. 


Five Common Senior Scams

The U.S. Department of Justice publishes a list that keeps seniors updated on scams that are trending. Check it regularly to stay on top of what’s happening and warn others. Here are the names of the scams and how they work.

Social Security Administration Imposter Scams: You pick up the phone with a Caller ID that says it’s from the Social Security Administration. A “government” representative informs you that your Social Security card has been suspended because of suspicious activity or was used in a crime and needs to be reactivated. You’re asked for your Social Security number to confirm the information, and may be told your account will be seized or frozen unless you act quickly.

Tech Support Scam: You receive a phone call or see a pop-up message on your computer saying that a virus or malware has been detected on your computer. A person calling themselves “tech support” asks for remote access to your computer and diagnoses a nonexistent  problem. You’re asked to pay for an unnecessary service to your machine. Sometimes, after making a payment, they’ll call you back. The same perpetrator is offering a refund. They ask for a bank account number to “reimburse” you, but steal your money instead.

Lottery Scams: You receive the news that you’ve won a sweepstakes or foreign lottery. The telemarketer poses as a lawyer or lottery representative, telling you all you need to do is pay for shipping, insurance, taxes, and the like before you can claim your prize. Victims pay up and are often revictimized until they have no money left.

IRS Imposter Scams: These aggressive and sophisticated phone scammers claim to be with the IRS. They claim you owe money to the IRS and it must be paid immediately with a wire transfer or a gift card. If you refuse to cooperate, you may be threatened with arrest, suspension of your driver’s license or deportation.

Romance Scams: You’re looking for romance on a dating or networking site, and you’ve met someone who seems to be a wonderful match. You feel yourself growing closer, but when you suggest meeting in person, your potential mate always has an excuse. At some point they make an urgent request for money to cover a health emergency, medical problem or other sudden need. It’s never paid back, and they keep asking for more.  


‘Tis the Holiday Scamming Season

Scammers don’t take a break during the holidays. In fact, they may try to take advantage of your natural generosity or shopping habits in especially sneaky ways. Holiday scams targeted at seniors include:

Fake Grandchildren

You’re expecting to hear from a grandchild at this time of year. You answer a call and find yourself listening to an urgent plea for help. Money is needed right away for bail, medical or legal fees, or an emergency expenses of some kind. And you mustn’t let anyone, especially a parent, know about the state they’re in. Rather than reacting under stress, tell them you’ll get back to them. Then call that grandchild on their direct number, or if you can’t reach them, call their parents to verify where they are.  

Fake Charities

Many of us give back during the holidays, and scammers try to take advantage of this generosity by posing as someone from a reputable charity. Before you write them a check, call the charity and confirm that the solicitation is genuine. 

Fake Gift Cards

While gift cards make easy and practical holiday gifts, scammers have been known to tamper with the ones displayed in grocery and other stores. Instead, buy a gift card directly from the retailer. 

Fake Online Offers

Since many of us now shop online, be alert to these phony offers:

The Big Discount: You may receive a message from what appears to be a major retailer offering a big discount after you download their app. 

The Loyalty Card: A retailer you’ve frequented wants to reward you with a gift card, but you need to click and link and provide your information to apply. 

The Secret Shopper: You’re invited to shop online and rate or review businesses. You can keep what you buy, and you may even be paid for your time. Your personal information is needed to apply.

The Purchase Problem: A business you’ve shopped at says there’s an issue with your order and you need to submit your payment details again. In every case, avoid clicking on the link or downloading the app, no matter how authentic the message seems to be. Verify if a business really sent you the information. It’s the scammer’s intent to get you to add malicious software to your computer or share sensitive information. 


Tips for Avoiding Scams for Seniors

If you’re concerned that you may have been contacted or duped by a scammer, take the following steps:   

  • Scammers will rush you to act quickly. Resist this pressure. Inform the police if you feel threatened.   
  • End all communication with the person or organization.
  • Search online for the contact information and the offer. Other people may have posted information about the same individual or business running the scam.
  • Always be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, mailers and door-to-door services offers.
  • Use reputable antivirus and malware protection for your computer and update it regularly.
  • Enable pop-up blockers on your computer or tablet to avoid accidentally clicking on one. Pop-ups are often used to spread malicious software.
  • Never play or download an attachment from someone you don’t know, and be wary of those forwarded from people you do know.
  • Take precautions to protect your identity if someone gains access to your device or account. Monitor your financial accounts for suspicious charges — thieves often test to see if you’re paying attention with a small charge. Call to cancel or freeze the account immediately. 

Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission complaint department and to your state’s consumer protection office. Contact your local law enforcement and the appropriate agency such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA.gov) or the Criminal Investigation Division for your branch of the military.

When you live in a community such as Cypress Village, you’ll have a ready network of information and support in the form of your neighbors and Cypress Village staff members. Our campus provides 24/7 security from unwanted solicitations, and is located in Jacksonville, one of Florida’s top-ranked retirement cities. Reach out to us to learn more about your senior living options.