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Financial Literacy

Protecting Seniors from Fraud

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As our world becomes increasingly more connected, it becomes easier for scammers to use technology to take advantage of us and our loved ones.

The Sad Truth about Fraud against Seniors

Whether on our computers, smartphones, or by landline, scammers target vulnerable people, oftentimes people over the age of 70. In fact, earlier this year, the Department of Justice announced that more than 2 million seniors were scammed in 2018, losing an estimated $700 million.

Scammers use these common schemes to capture important information from their victims:

  • Spoofing and phishing: A legitimate business’s website is redirected to a “spoof” or fake website that looks remarkably similar. When the customer pays for the product, their payment information is stolen, and no product is delivered. Phishing is a similar approach but done through seemingly legitimate email marketing.
  • The grandparent scheme: Someone pretending to be the senior’s grandchild calls in dire need of financial assistance. This scheme usually entails the supposed grandchild traveling outside of the country and needing an international wire transfer to receive the funds.
  • The virus scheme: Someone calls saying that their computer has a virus. They usually say that the data on their computer will be lost unless they install a “virus software” immediately. In even worse scenarios, the scammers gain access to the computer through phishing or other means and can lock the computer down until the victim pays a ransom.
  • The government agency scheme: This scheme has a few different variations, but often it involves someone pretending to call from a government agency (usually the IRS, FBI, police, or Social Security Administration) saying that the senior is facing criminal charges if they don’t take care of a certain issue. This adds urgency so that the victim will be more likely to give the scammer their social security number or other important information without thinking everything through.

Through these and many other methods, scammers have succeeded in defrauding seniors out of millions of dollars. A Federal Trade Commission report observed that while people of all ages reported an average of $2,000 lost through scams, people over the age of 70 reported an average of $9,000 lost.

Better Safe Than Sorry

If you’re worried that you or your loved ones might be duped by scams like these, here are some tips to keep important information safe:

  1. First things first, have a conversation with the seniors in your life who may be targeted by telemarketing, mail, or online scams. Use the statistics in this post and other informative websites to help them understand the scale of fraud across the United States and especially towards seniors. Once they know that the phone call or piece of mail that purports to give them something that sounds “too good to be true,” they will hopefully think twice before moving forward.
  2. The IRS, FBI, police departments, banks, and other legitimate organizations will never call you and ask you for personal information over the phone. Essentially, any phone call that is from someone you don’t know personally (or not a representative from your doctor/dentist office about an upcoming appointment, etc.) should be treated with suspicion. If it is a sales person, simply say “No, thank you,” and hang up.
  3. Don’t pay any sum of money to obtain a “free prize” (often construed as “taxes”). According to the FBI, if someone says the payment is for taxes, it is a violation of federal law. One woman was told she won a Mercedes and all she had to do was pay the taxes on it. Years later, suffering from severe dementia, she had lost almost $350,000 through the fraud scheme.
  4. Never make rushed decisions. Ask for details and get things in writing. The people who run these scams know that you’re more likely to make poor decisions and not think things through if you have to make the decision quickly. This is an especially prominent scam with computer “viruses” that threaten to erase information like family photos and important documents. Call a trusted person or a legitimate IT professional to talk through the issue instead.

Unfortunately, new scams are created all the time that could be harmful to ourselves, our friends, and family. However, the good news is that lawmakers are beginning to address some of these issues through new laws targeted at scammers. Still, it pays to be careful and learn more about senior fraud before it happens to you or someone you love.

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