While anyone can become a scam victim, fraudsters usually turn to one demographic above all others: older adults. Here’s a look at some of the more common scams that target older adults, along with some ideas to help stand up against these would-be thieves.
The Top Scams That Target Older Adults
According to the National Council on Aging, here are the most common financial scams that target older adults:
- Government impersonation scams. Scammers will call and pretend to be from the IRS, Social Security Administration, or Medicare. The scammer may say the victim has unpaid taxes and threaten arrest or deportation if they don’t immediately pay up or threaten to cut off Social Security or Medicare benefits if they don’t provide personal identification. Once this information is obtained, it can be used to commit identity theft.
- Sweepstakes scam. The victim receives a call or message saying they’ve won a sweepstakes content or lottery prize. As a condition of winning, victims are required to send money up front to cover tax and processing fees.
- Phone scams. Scammers will call the victim and say, “Can you hear me?” When the victim responds “Yes,” the scammer records their voice and hangs up. The scammer now has a voice signature to authorize charges on items like stolen credit cards.
- Computer tech support scams. These scams target a lack of knowledge about computers and technology. A scammer may proactively reach out to a potential victim by communicating via a pop-up window that says the victim’s computer or phone is damaged and needs to be fixed. When the victim calls the support number for help, the scammer may request remote access to their computer or phone, and demand a fee to repair it.
- The grandparent scam. Scammers will call a would-be grandparent, tries to build rapport by pretending to be the victim’s grandchild, and eventually asks the victim for money to help with an urgent financial problem.
- Romance scams. A scammer will build a relationship with the victim via social media or an online dating website before asking for a large sum of money. The Federal Trade Commission reported that losses to romance schemes reached a record $304 million in 2020, up 50% from 2019.
How You Can Help
If you know someone who could be a target, consider establishing regular get-togethers so you can inform them of these activities, ask if they have any financial (or non-financial) questions, and find out if they received any suspicious communication that may be a scam.
If you think someone has been scammed, suggest to them the following steps to report the theft:
- Call banks and credit card companies
- Reset account passwords
- Call the police to report stolen property
- Report the scam to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging
- Report to the U.S. Justice Department’s National Elder Fraud Hotline
- Submit a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission