Financial scams are a prevalent part of modern life. Some of these are complex, while others rely on relatively simple fear tactics. Unfortunately, an increasing number of financial scams, or schemes that target seniors.
Often, your best defense against scammers is knowledge. By gaining a better understanding of the techniques being used, you can mount a more effective response. In turn, you can protect your financial security.
Let’s take a look at 13 common financial scams that target seniors.
1. Phishing Scams
Phishing is one of the most common types of financial scams targeting seniors currently. Usually, this takes the form of fraudsters sending emails or text messages claiming to be from a bank or other key service.
The sender will often claim that there has been a security breach to your account or some other issue. The message will request you click on a link or open an attachment to solve this issue. Unfortunately, performing this action can either direct you to a site that collects your personal information or downloads malware onto your computer.
This type of financial scam assumes that seniors don’t know what genuine emails from the services they use look like. Protecting yourself against this begins with staying calm. You should then contact the business the email claims to be from without clicking on any links. It’s also worth familiarizing yourself with what your bank does when an account breach or issue has occurred; most won’t send an email.
2. Funeral Scams
The cost of funerals is a concern for many seniors. Few want their loved ones to be burdened by unnecessary expenses. Unfortunately, this is a worry that an increasing number of financial scammers are seeking to take advantage of.
One of the most prevalent of these is the prepaid funeral service package. This is where a person calls claiming to be from a funeral director or similar company. They’ll talk to you about the burden funeral costs can place on your family and offer you a package you can prepay for over time. Unfortunately, the fraudster will embezzle these funds, leaving your family without the resources you hoped to provide them.
There are some legitimate prepaid funeral services. The key to protecting yourself is doing some research. Avoid the salesperson’s pressure to agree over the phone. Ask for a number to call them back on. Spend some time looking at the company’s qualifications on its website and reviews from other customers.
3. IRS Scams
An increasing number of seniors are experiencing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scams at the moment. These capitalize on the apparent authority of an official government agency. Fraudsters tend to assume that victims will be willing to hand over sensitive information or finances to someone who appears to be a legitimate member of the IRS.
One of the most effective ways they operate is through issuing threats. Fraudsters call or email seniors, advising that intended victims have underpaid taxes on income or retirement savings. They’ll then threaten arrest, fines, or deportation if immediate action isn’t taken. This is where they’ll request to be provided with — or have victims “confirm” — Social Security and identifying information they can use to commit further fraud with. They can even request you pay “arrears” directly or with gift cards.
Protecting yourself against this involves understanding how the IRS genuinely approaches underpayments. Real IRS agents don’t call. In the first instance, you would usually receive a letter. They will also never demand payment over the phone. If you receive a call purporting to be from the IRS, advise you will call your local IRS office back.
4. Tech Support Scams
Our current digital landscape offers some incredible advantages for us all. However, many people don’t have an intimate understanding of precisely how the tech we use operates. This is something that tech support scammers seek to take advantage of. They’re particularly targeting seniors due to the ageist assumption that this demographic is less likely to have a solid understanding of technology.
Usually, someone claiming to be from tech support will contact an intended victim. This is through phone, email, or sometimes a pop-up message on a device’s screen. They will inform the victim that there is a problem with the device. In some cases, they’ll talk the victim through the steps to give “tech support” remote access to the device to repair it. The fraudsters can then utilize personal information stored on the device to access accounts or take out loans. In other cases, they’ll request victims wire large sums of money to fix the issue.
It’s important to understand that tech support agents don’t usually reach out to consumers to advise of problems with devices. You should also aim to stay calm and not immediately respond to the caller’s pressure to act immediately. If they request remote access to your device, ask for identifying information you can verify independently with the company you purchased the device from before proceeding.
5. Law Enforcement Scams
The last thing anybody wants is for their loved ones to experience hardships. Even if a family member runs afoul of the law, it’s natural to want to help out however you can. This is an instinct that law enforcement scammers rely on.
In this type of fraud, scammers contact seniors posing as law enforcement officials or a lawyer. They usually claim that the intended victim’s family member has been arrested and has been asked to make contact to arrange a bail payment. The scammer or an associate will often then arrive at the senior’s home posing as a bond agent and collect thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, such scams are often made easier as a result of seniors posting about family members on social media. This provides criminals with names and other details they can utilize to make the scam seem more legitimate. It’s important to make your online accounts private wherever possible. If you’re contacted by anyone claiming to be law enforcement, you should also take steps to verify their identity and claims with the local police.
6. Credit Card Scams
With the rise of online shopping, many people operate a largely cashless way of life. This means relying on credit cards to make purchases. Unfortunately, it also places a lot of seniors in a vulnerable position, as credit card fraudsters are targeting them for scams.
Criminals are devising new schemes all the time, but there is a range of credit card scams that are particularly prevalent for seniors. Alongside the aforementioned phishing scams and threatening scams, you should be aware of overcharging scams. This is where fraudsters contact you by phone or email to advise you’ve been overcharged on a recent purchase. They’ll then request you provide your credit card details for reimbursement. This provides them with the tools they need to make withdrawals and purchases.
It’s important to remember that most vendors or credit card companies won’t reach out to you by phone to inform you of such errors. Under no circumstances should you provide a credit card number or any other identifying details over the phone. If the company is legitimately refunding you for an overpayment, they should already have these details.
7. Grandparent Scams
Being a grandparent can be one of the most rewarding parts of senior life. This makes it even more frustrating that some fraudsters will try to take advantage of your love for your grandchildren. In recent years the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has logged a range of variations on what they’ve dubbed the grandparent scam.
At its core, this type of scam revolves around a fraudster contacting a senior claiming to be one of their grandchildren. They will say that they’ve experienced a type of emergency and need money to rectify the situation. In some instances, they will have an associate posing as a police officer, doctor, lawyer, or another type of official to back up their story.
This one can be challenging, as these scammers are playing on your emotions to get you to act quickly and without scrutiny. As with so many of these cases, it’s important to take the time for independent verification. Call your grandchild’s parents to establish whether they’ve been contacted. Call your grandchild on the number you already have for them. Never give financial details or arrange wire transfers without proof of who is receiving it.
8. Medicare Scams
Many seniors rely on Medicare as a way to access affordable healthcare. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of this as a way to fraudulently gain financial advantages. In most cases, criminals are seeking to gain access to seniors’ Medicare numbers so they can make fraudulent claims for reimbursement. The result of this could be that your premiums may be raised.
One of the most common methods scammers use is to phone or email seniors to offer free medical equipment or access to niche medical services. They have no intention of providing these services, but they’ll ask for your Medicare information as a “standard” part of the application process. Many will also have websites with forms you can fill in with this information.
As with so many scams, you should remember that most legitimate medical services won’t ask for your Medicare information over the phone. In addition, it’s important to be vigilant when reviewing your Medicare benefits statements and raise queries over anything claims you feel are suspect.
9. Sweepstakes Scams
Everyone likes to win something occasionally. As a senior, money is often tight, so the potential of winning a financial or material reward can be extra enticing. Sweepstakes scammers rely on this when targeting seniors.
In this instance, criminals will contact seniors by phone, text message, or email. The message will congratulate the recipient on winning a big prize in a sweepstake or lottery. However, the “winner” will be informed that in order to get the cash from the big win they’ll have to make a tax payment or release fee. In some cases, fraudsters will keep their victims dangling over a long period of time, prompting repeated payments with the promise that the prize will be released soon.
This is a case where the adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” applies. If you haven’t entered a sweepstake or lottery, you won’t be in line for a prize. It’s also important to remember that lotteries don’t reach out to winners.
10. Robocall Scams
Robocalling is a method of automatically dialing phone numbers in order to send a message to a large number of people. While there are legitimate reasons to use this, robocalling is frequently utilized for spamming and fraud purposes. Indeed, this method’s ability to filter huge volumes of numbers and connect answered calls with agents makes it an effective tool for different types of scamming. There are also ways to spoof the numbers the robocall is dialing from in order to make it appear as though the call is from an official source.
In most cases, the first thing you’ll hear on receiving a robocall is a recorded message. This will advise you of the reason for the call. In fraudulent circumstances, the message often informs you that you’re the victim of a crime or there is an issue with your bank account. You’ll then either be connected to an agent or told to call another number where the criminal will attempt to gain finances or personal information from you.
Some phone network providers offer spam-blocking services. It’s also worth registering with Donotcall.gov. While this doesn’t stop you from receiving calls from fraudsters, you can at least be relatively certain that most robocalls you receive are not from legitimate sources.
11. Gift Card Scams
Gift cards can be a useful alternative to giving cash to friends and relatives during celebrations. However, these are currently popular methods through which criminals are scamming seniors. This is because gift cards are a largely untraceable way for criminals to have victims send them funds.
This scam can take a variety of formats. Usually, the criminal will call to say they’re from your bank or another service and that there is an urgent issue. They’ll inform you that unless you make a gift card payment, something bad is likely to happen as a result. They’ll tell you which type of gift card to buy — Google Play, iTunes, Walmart, or Target, among others — and how much to put on the card. You’ll then be asked to give them the card number and PIN.
The simple way to protect yourself is to know that no legitimate organization will ask for payment only by a gift card. If you’re not giving a gift, there’s no need to buy a gift card.
12. Equity Release Scams
Equity release scams — also known as reverse mortgage scams — are a common way to target seniors. This is because older citizens tend to be more likely to own their homes. Not to mention that the fixed income of retirement can make it tempting to try and free up some of the value tied up in a property.
Equity release can be a legitimate, often complex, form of a loan. Providers offer homeowners regular payments over a set period of time. In return, the company will be repaid from the estate when the homeowner passes away or if they sell the home. However, there are scams that can be attached to this. Some contractors will pressure elderly homeowners into taking out these reverse mortgages to fund unnecessary upgrades. Relatives have also been known to trick seniors into taking out equity releases to gain their inheritance early.
It’s important to remember that equity release isn’t a miracle solution to financial issues. It is a form of mortgage and should be approached with the same careful consideration as you would when buying a home. Be wary of those attempting to pressure you into it.
13. Online Property Purchase Scams
Buying property online can be a convenient way to invest your funds in tangible assets. However, some of the negatives of buying property online include the potential for fraudulent practices. There can be discrepancies in valuations or misleading property photos. But seniors can often find that they’re susceptible to hackers who utilize property websites to gain access to email addresses and other private information.
Too many people hand over their personal details to property sales websites willingly. After all, they assume that purchasing a property requires Social Security numbers and other financial information. This can be particularly tempting if you’re trying not to miss out on a property deal that seems irresistible.
You should maintain a strict habit against giving out personal information online. Wherever possible, verify the legitimacy of a property purchase website through state and local real estate organizations.
Seniors are often considered an easy target for fraudsters. There is a wide range of common schemes, from the grandparent scam to robocalling systems. Remember that being a victim of fraud is not a failing on your part, some of these people can be very convincing. Nevertheless, in many cases, you can protect yourself best by avoiding panic and taking the time to verify the legitimacy of the person contacting you.