Common Senior Scams and Tips to Protect Your Identity
Seniors can be susceptible to scams, fraud, and identity theft from groups who want to take advantage of their circumstances. Being aware of common scams targeting the elderly and learning how to protect your personal information can keep you and your finances safe.
Medicare Benefits Solutions
Jul 15, 2022
Why Do Seniors Fall for Scams?
Scams that target seniors continue to grow at an alarming rate for a variety of reasons. Scammers may believe seniors have accumulated a lot of money, though low-income seniors are vulnerable too. Scammers also tend to target people they believe may be isolated.
Special interests like reverse mortgages, funeral planning, anti-aging products and Medicare plans put older adults at risk of fraud. The BBB found the highest exposure to scams targeting the elderly in the 65-and-older age bracket involve travel, vacations and timeshares.
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Scams Targeting Seniors
Senior scams refer to a swindle or fraud, and they can take many forms. Scamming is illegal but, unfortunately, not uncommon. It seems there will always be people investing their time and resources to take advantage of others. Technology has worsened the problem, particularly when it comes to scams that target seniors.
As scammers fine-tune their methods of identifying and targeting the groups perceived as the most vulnerable, we have to be vigilant and proactive by learning new ways to protect ourselves.
The following are a few tips you can employ to stay a step ahead of scams that target seniors.
Tips for Seniors to Avoid Scams
There are many ways you can protect yourself, your private information, and your money from people who would try to steal from you or use your identity to commit fraud.
Here are suggestions on how can you stay safe from current scams targeting seniors:
- Do not give your private Medicare information, banking numbers, Social Security number, or credit card numbers to anyone who calls you. Insist on calling the official phone number for the company or organization or communicating through a secure official website.
- Be careful when carrying identification cards when you travel. Consider keeping the originals at home in a safe place and making a copy of your healthcare information in case you need it while you’re away.
- If it seems too good to be true, it might be. If you get a call, email, or text that says you’ve won a prize, it is likely a scam. Especially if getting the prize requires you to give out your personal details and information.
- Communicate regularly with people you trust, and go to your advisors when you have questions or concerns.
Verify any information you see online. Misinformation on social media has become prevalent – so if you see something that concerns you, go to the source. Official government or organization websites can be a reliable way to fact-check information.
- Change your password regularly on websites, social media, and patient portals.
7 Common Scams Targeting the Elderly
It’s a good idea to stay abreast of scams targeting the elderly because swindlers continue to invent new ways to prey on people. There are several scams that are currently being reported across the country. Being aware of these can help protect you and your loved ones.
1. Government imposter scams
Official government websites frequently warn older adults to be watchful of perpetrators wrongfully claiming to work for the government. Government imposter scams, in particular Social Security (SS), took the lead in fraud in 2019. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), “there were 166,190 reports about Social Security scams, with people reporting individual losses of about $1,500.”
The following are examples of common Social Security scams and what you need to know:
Caller: Your SS # is suspended, and you need to verify the number.
Tip: Do not supply or verify your SS# or any personal information to random callers.
Caller: You can buy a gift card or wire money to pay a fee and reactivate your SS#.
Tip: The SSA will not ask you to load gift cards, wire money or transfer cash. Hang up the phone.
2. ID spoofing scams
Scammers can implement a technique known as caller ID spoofing, which enables your caller ID to present false information about where the call is coming from. Based on what you see on your caller ID display, you may think the caller is a neighbor or government representative. This manipulation is done to gain your trust before you even pick up the phone.
Program your list of known callers into your landline and mobile phone, and use caller ID to answer calls only from sources you recognize. A legitimate company or government agency will likely leave a voicemail. If the message sounds credible, don’t use the number provided to return the call. Instead, contact the organization directly using a phone number retrieved from a company/agency website, your telephone book or a recent billing statement.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offers a tip card for avoiding spoofing scams, a graphic you can download from the FCC website.
3. Grandparent scams
According to the National Council on Aging, one of the most devastating scams is the grandparent scam. This is where defrauders take advantage of your desire to help your grandchildren in crisis.
Someone poses as your granddaughter or grandson on the phone and asks for money to resolve a debt or legal matter, sounding desperate and convincing you to keep it a secret. Whenever you feel pressured to hand over money quickly and discreetly, it is probably a scam. Hang up the phone and report it to law enforcement.
4. Telemarketing phone call scams
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), it’s a good idea to “cultivate a healthy distrust for unsolicited callers and avoid sharing personal information.” Try not to succumb to the pressure that a telemarketer imposes on you. The following terms from an unsolicited caller should raise a red flag:
- Act now.
- This is a guaranteed investment opportunity.
- Buy one, get one free.
- Pay only for postage or administrative fees.
5. Impersonation scams
In June 2022, law enforcement agencies issued an alert about false credentials. Although this is not a new ploy, scammers have moved on from your doorstep to email and text to display a doctored badge. Deceivers may change a photo or substitute an individual name, agency name or a badge number.
Government employees and federal law enforcement agencies will not show you photos of credentials to demand money, so refrain from transferring money, buying gift cards, mailing cash or transmitting funds in any manner. If you suspect impersonation scams targeting seniors, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
6. Remote work scams
Remote work has been in existence for years, but the pandemic brought this employment model to a new level, and scammers keep up with the times. Seniors excited about a potential job opportunity may quickly concede to a supposed hiring manager’s demand for a SS number or an upfront payment as part of the recruitment process.
But this is a scam. The FTC advises you to:
- Research the company online, checking for issues by typing “scam,” “review” or “complaint” next to the company’s name in the search field.
- Pursue your job search with legitimate sources like Career One Stop, a state job bank sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
- If the company sends you a check, assume it will bounce. Companies covering office equipment for home use will typically require an expense report that you need to submit for reimbursement.
7. Medicare and other health insurance scams
Although health insurance fraud can occur throughout the year, scams targeting the elderly seem to increase during the Medicare Open Enrollment period that runs from October 15 to December 7. The majority of Medicare scams take place via phone calls, but scammers are also using email, door-to-door visits, and good old U.S mail.
Potential scammers pretend to be a Medicare representative and try to steal your personal identity asking for your name, social security number, financial details and other information. Never share your unique Medicare card number with anyone attempting to verify your identity, offering you free medical supplies, or claiming you are entitled to a refund. These are all common Medicare fraud schemes targeting the elderly.
TIP: test yourself with our Medicare quiz.
Protecting Seniors From Internet Scams
If you are a caregiver, friend, or family member who is concerned, there are ways to safeguard seniors from internet scams. Offer to help them take some of these precautionary steps:
- Sign up for alerts with financial institutions to trigger automated notifications for bank deposits, bank withdrawals and credit card charges.
- Set up a password manager to protect passwords and eliminate the need to type passwords or keep written records that others can access.
- Research identity theft protection services to purchase a plan that provides identity monitoring, safe browsing tools and credit score tracking.
- Install trusted software to block viruses, prevent access to risky websites and minimize vulnerability to phishing attacks.
- Help your loved one to connect to a private network for telehealth visits to prevent hackers from accessing personal health information.
Protect Yourself From Senior Citizen Scams
The best way to protect yourself is to be wary, and if in doubt, err on the side of caution. Do not give out your personal information unless you have verified the identity of the person or organization you are working with. Scammers have gotten very good at targeting seniors, so take a moment before sharing private information.