Online Scams that Target the Elderly

While everyone is a potential online scamming target and victim, seniors are a primary target. In fact, 20% of Americans who are over 65 have been financially taken advantage of and over 80% of telemarketing scams prey on victims over the age of 60.

Scammers gravitate to an opportunity like moths to a flame.

People across the country are following the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” directives, preferring online transactions to in-person shopping and presenting new opportunities for scammers to take advantage of people, especially seniors, who may not be as digitally savvy as others.

The 4 Vulnerable Areas: Phone Calls, Text Messages, Email, and Social Media

Be it clicking on suspicious links and downloading phishing files or providing personal and/or financial information, seniors tend to be far more trusting than other age groups and therefore, more vulnerable.

According to IDology, older Americans are more likely to become victims of identity theft, usually through theft of their credit or debit card information. Since the pandemic, there has been a 209% increase in the use of seniors’ personal information to commit fraud. Seniors are also less likely to act against fraud than other age groups.

Aging parents, friends or relatives may be at risk, but can protect themselves if they informed or take note of the following warning signs:

  1. IDs Can be Sold – Personal information like social security numbers, bank account information, email addresses, and passwords, etc. can all be compromised and sold on the dark web – it’s not just 1 person who has your information anymore – it could be hundreds. Never give out personal information without verifying credentials first. Most companies that contact you will not ask for account information over the phone. If you are unsure, go to the company’s website and call the main number listed. This is especially true of banks and credit cards – they will NEVER call you asking for personal information.
  2. The IRS won’t call you. As with most government agencies, they will not call, text, or contact you on social media – they will usually send you a letter in the mail. If they are requesting a money order, gift card, cash, or wire transfer this is a scam.
  3. False claims related to Covid. At this time there is not an approved vaccine or drug to treat the virus. If you receive emails or calls requesting personal information to get access to treatment, do not provide any information. Additionally, you can also fall victim to dubious contact tracing scams pretending to work for public health departments and looking to get your personal information.
  4. Medicare — In scams involving Medicare, fraudsters pose as Medicare representatives to get seniors to give them their personal information, such as their Medicare identification number. The fraudster uses this information to bill Medicare for fraudulent services and then pockets the money.
  5. Counterfeit prescription drugs— As prices for prescription drugs increase, seniors look to the internet to find cheaper prices for their medications. Unfortunately, fraudsters are aware of this and set up websites that advertise cheap prescription drugs which are usually counterfeit. Seniors who unknowingly purchase these counterfeit drugs soon realize they have been duped when the drugs do not provide any relief from their medical condition or even cause additional health problems.
  6. Funerals — In one type of funeral scheme, fraudsters use obituaries to find out information about the deceased in attempts to extort money from family members or grieving spouses. They claim the deceased has an outstanding debt that must be paid immediately. Those close to the deceased are usually in a vulnerable state and are more likely to pay the fraudulent debt. In another scheme, dishonest funeral directors might try to deceive the elderly by capitalizing on their unfamiliarity with funeral costs and sell them unnecessary services, such as a casket when the deceased is going to be cremated.
  7. Sweepstakes/lotteries—This scheme usually involves contacting elderly victims either by mail or telephone and informing them that they have won a prize of some sort but must pay a fee to obtain the prize. Scammers send a fake check to the senior to deposit in their bank account knowing it will take some time for the bank to reject the check. Meanwhile, the victim has sent the scammer money through wire transfer for fees or taxes on the prize. The victim soon realizes that he was scammed when the check doesn’t clear.
  8. The grandparent scam— This scam is extremely deceptive because it plays on the elderly’s emotions. In a grandparent scam, a scammer calls an older person and pretends to be their grandchild. They ask them if they know who is calling, and when the grandparent guesses the name of one of their grandchildren, they pretend to be that grandchild. The scammer tells the grandparent that they are in some sort of financial bind and asks if they can send money using Western Union or MoneyGram to help them out. The scammer asks the grandparent not to tell anyone about their situation. Once the scammer receives the money, he continues to contact the grandparent and asks them to send more money.

Because seniors tend to be more trustworthy or may be experiencing cognitive decline, they are especially vulnerable and too frequently fall victim to scams.   Keeping seniors aware of the dangers and prevalence of scams can help protect them from fraud; if anything seems suspicious, a trusted family member or financial advisor should be consulted for help.

For some downloadable Internet Safety Tips from Dave Hall from CompuWorks, CLICK HERE.

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