No one likes being duped out of their hard-earned cash, but scams that target older adults seem like the most heartless acts of theft. Seniors are perceived as wealthier, more socially isolated, and less technologically competent, making them more susceptible to being tricked by ruthless scammers. Let’s get wise to this and explore the 19 scams most successfully used to defraud people of retirement age or older.
Social Security Impersonation
If you get a call from social security, always verify the caller’s identity before giving away any personal information. The SSA says scammers impersonate officials and claim that you have issues with your benefits or identity—then they use these fake problems to extract financial information.
Fraudsters call up older people to offer free medical equipment or medication but request Medicare information in order to process the delivery, which they then use to make fake billing requests. Medicare.gov warns you to never give out healthcare details to anyone except Medicare or trusted individuals. Always report suspicious calls to their fraud helpline.
The FTC explains that phishing emails impersonate legitimate organizations (like banks or service providers) and request personal information or extra payment. They often threaten security breaches or problems with your account should you fail to ‘update your information’ or pay a fee. Always go to the company’s official webpage or app to check for issues.
Tech Support Scams
Scammers call up seniors posing as tech support professionals who have detected problems with their computers or other devices. Often, they claim to ‘fix’ the problem and then demand payment for services or software. AARP says legitimate companies will never send unsolicited calls, emails, or texts about personal computer problems.
Taking Care writes, “Social media and dating apps are hot spots for romance scammers targeting older adults.” Tricksters form online relationships with seniors to gain their trust before using this false connection to extract personal information or money. Take extra care if strangers ask you for money online, and always ask a friend or family member before sending funds.
Scammers pose as grandchildren of the targeted person, claiming they’re in distress (e.g., in jail or injured) and need financial assistance. According to Experian, the ‘grandkid’ often claims to be worried about other family members finding out and demands secrecy. Always verify the claims with your family and ask for proof of identity—like the answers to questions only they would know.
Once again, scammers use the telephone to contact older people, this time informing them that they’ve won a lottery or prize but need to pay fees or taxes upfront to claim their winnings. The alluring promise of a windfall often persuades victims to pay. Remember that you can’t win a lottery or competition you didn’t enter, and official lotteries never ask for fees in advance.
Home Improvement Scams
These work by offering the senior unsolicited house repairs or improvements (like roof tiling or driveway paving), often using the threat of further damage or safety concerns to entice them to agree (NCOA). Either the work is completed poorly or unfinished, or expensive items (like solar panels) never arrive. Always seek out repairmen yourself and get several quotes for the work.
Fake investment opportunities promise high returns, enticing seniors to invest their savings for the chance of massive gains. Unfortunately, older people who fall for such schemes are often left with nothing or considerably less money than they put in. Always use an independent, trusted financial advisor whenever making investments.
Online Shopping Scams
Seniors who shop online may encounter fake online stores that offer enticingly discounted products, but the goods never arrive, despite payments often being processed through a seemingly ‘trusted’ payment platform. Only use reputable retailers like Amazon or online versions of physical stores you know and trust.
The Department of Justice warns of scammers claiming to be IRS agents who threaten legal action for unpaid taxes or demand personal information. Seniors may be particularly susceptible due to their fear of unwittingly breaking the law. The IRS primarily communicates by mail, and any genuine IRS representative will gladly verify their identity.
Older people, with more time at home and a ‘soft spot’ for certain causes like animal welfare or cancer research, are susceptible to scammers who ask for donations for fake charities or falsely claim they’re affiliated with a genuine organization. Always research a charity before donating, or consider giving to a well-known one directly via their official website.
Home Equity Theft
With these scams, the targets are seniors with reverse mortgages. The scammer attempts to trick them into signing over their property to prevent them from losing it. A strong desire to stay in their homes can make some older people vulnerable, particularly if the scammer manages to convince them that the threat is real.
Elder Financial Abuse
Sometimes, the threat comes from a previously trusted individual, like a family member, caregiver, or financial advisor. Unscrupulous people in positions of trust have been known to exploit senior people, taking control of bank accounts or lying to receive payments. Always monitor your own finances and tell others whenever someone you know is acting suspiciously.
Timeshare Resale Scams
Fraudulent companies offering timeshares for sale may then take payment without delivering the product, says HG.org. Seniors seeking to divest timeshares are particularly susceptible to such scams. Always do your research beforehand and only use reputable estate agents, preferably ones that people you know have used personally and can vouch for.
Utility Bill Scams
The scammer impersonates a utility company and contacts the senior to threaten them with disconnection should they fail to make a payment. Fearful of losing essential services like water, electricity, or gas supplies, older people are susceptible to being duped. Never give out payment details without verifying them, or simply hang up and call the company back via official channels.
Fake Check Scams
The NCOA reports, “A fake check scam can happen when a scammer gives someone a fraudulent check to deposit and then asks them to send back money for a variety of reasons.” The promise of easy money deceives victims, so always be cautious if someone you don’t know offers you a deal that seems ‘too good to be true.’
Government Grant Scams
Scammers call up claiming that the older person is eligible for a government grant; they then say they need to pay an ‘application fee’ or request personal information. Always bear in mind that no government grants require payment, and no legitimate federal agency will object if you ask them to verify their identity.
Fraudsters pose as bank officials and ask the victim to give out personal information so they can ‘fix’ problems with their account or banking services. A deep-seated trust in financial institutions can make older people susceptible to having their funds stolen. Always check with your bank using official contact details before giving out personal data.
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