Scams that specifically target older adults are on the rise, and it’s an unfortunate fact that hundreds of thousands of seniors are victims of fraud every year. In addition to the threat of identity theft posed by data breaches such as the Equifax breach, seniors are also victimized in more old-fashioned ways: by telephone scams, people going door to door, and by mail. Some of the most common scams are:
- “The grandparent scam”: a caller pretends to be a grandchild in trouble, claiming to need money wired immediately because he/she is sick/jailed/stranded.
- Other phone scams: Callers pretend to be IRS agents and demand money, or state they are from Microsoft or another tech company and “need to provide tech support.” Telemarketing gimmicks include calls stating you have won a prize, trip, or a sweepstakes, but need to pay a fee to claim the prize.
- Door-to-door pitches for cheap home repairs or other services. Often the person asks for money up front and the repair is not finished, is never started, or the work is shoddily done.
- “The Nigerian Prince” scam, which has been going on for decades, may be an email, letter, or call from someone posing as a foreigner who offers to transfer a substantial amount of cash to the person’s bank account. The thief either asks for bank account numbers and other sensitive information, or requests a small sum of money to be wired as a gesture of good faith.
Whether it’s a pitch by phone, the Internet, or door-to-door, scammers are pros and can be very convincing. Moreover, many victims don’t report the crime out of shame and embarrassment, and few get their money back. Here are some reminders for seniors to avoid becoming a victim of fraud:
- Never reply to letters, emails, texts, or phone calls asking for personal or financial information.
- Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card or other sensitive information.
- Be wary of door-to-door solicitors and high-pressure sales tactics.
- Never open the door for or allow strangers into your house. Better to be rude than robbed!
- Invest in a security system that includes a doorbell camera and the ability to talk to someone at your door without opening it.
- Report suspicious activity to the authorities.
Families can help protect seniors against identity theft by ensuring their electronic devices are kept secure with up-to-date virus and firewall protection, and reviewing credit reports and monthly credit card and bank statements. A red flag may be a large amount of junk mail, particularly sweepstakes, investments, and “miracle health products,” which may indicate that the older adult is being targeted by telemarketers. Some families redirect mail to a family member for sorting. Our care managers will assist with mail sorting and removing scam type mail. Another way to limit telemarketing calls and letters is to put the senior’s phone number on the National Do Not Call registry by phoning (888) 382-1222 or visiting www.donotcall.gov, as well as submitting their address to the Direct Marketing Association.
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