As unfortunate as it is, it is no secret that tons of financial scams exist that target the elderly population in an effort to rob them of their hard-earned money. Although awareness for these scams is now at an all-time high, thousands of people still fall prey to these scams everyday and often end up unknowingly losing a large chunk of their life savings. Below we’ve outlined some of the most prominent scams that target senior citizens that you should be aware of and avoid at all costs.
Social Security Fraud
This scam involves one party reaching out to another, falsely claiming an affiliation with the Social Security Administration (SSA) looking to take advantage of the fact that many seniors will neither care nor know how to verify whether or not the scammer is actually calling on behalf of the SSA. Usually the scammers threaten their victims with false legal charges, large fines and even threats of incarceration if they do not follow instructions. With modern technology, scammers are also able to easily change their caller ID phone number to display that of the official SSA office, further increasing the chances that they gain full trust of their victims. If you are faced with a situation like this, know that the SSA will never contact you directly via phone. It is best to hang up the phone immediately, never provide any personal information, and report the call to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Another example of identity theft is when scammers call elders impersonating a Medicare representative. Many elders are tricked into giving scammers confidential information in order to update their medical records or to obtain a Medicare care. They may also claim that there is an overdue payment that the elders need to make and threaten the victim with hefty fines if they refuse to pay. As is the case with many federal programs, neither Medicare, Medicaid, the IRS, nor the SSA will call you to request personal information.
Similar to the SSA scammers, these scammers call seniors asking them to donate to a charitable cause. They will claim that they represent a reputable organization that aims to support those in need and will often reach out to potential victims after natural disasters to ask seniors to donate to those who have been affected. However, these scammers are not legally allowed to fundraise for the organization and will more than likely pocket whatever “donations” they receive. Operators of this scheme usually target their victims through phone calls, mail and email. To avoid falling prey to this scam, seniors are suggested to search the organization’s ratings on online nonprofit databases such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator and see whether or not the organization holds tax-exempt status under the IRS.
Classic Grandparent Scam
Scammers specially target elders pretending to be their grandchild in an accident or involved in some legal trouble that would require money to resolve. As a result, elders are prone to give them money to help their grandchild. Scammer would request the elders to give gift cards and mail cash, split into smaller bills in each envelope through various carriers. As of 2018, the Federal Trade Commission found that there was an average loss of $9000 per person. If one would to encounter this scam, the elder should not act immediately. Instead, call the grandchild with the correct number to confirm that they have been injured or in trouble. Elders should also pay attention to what they post on social media. Scammers may use those information to claim to be a family member. The FTC has offered to investigate the scammers by reporting it through FTC.gov/complaint.
Another prominent scam involves an individual or organization calling a senior citizen with news of their grandchild sustaining some sort of injury or legal trouble and requiring immediate funds to pay for medical treatment or legal services. Of course, with many seniors in this day and age not being particularly tech savvy or keen to such schemes, oftentimes these scams are successful in fooling their victims and collecting unearned cash, usually in the form of gift cards. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission reports that this particular scheme bilked over $41 million from senior citizens in 2018, almost double the amount from the year prior. The first and most important thing to do is to contact the individual in question, whether it is a grandchild or other relative, and confirm whether or not they are in need of financial assistance. After you’ve confirmed that they are not, which is usually the case, hang up immediately.
The government and the private sector have been stepping in to stop scams targeting seniors. For example, a number of banks have been training their employees to pay attention to elders that make large amount of withdrawals and warning them beforehand. The AARP Banksafe initiative also focuses on training banks to spot situations in which elders may be scammed and reaching out to them accordingly. Furthermore, the government has passed the Stop Senior Scam Act in 2019 to collect experts to raise attention and develop educational materials to help seniors recognize and avoid financial schemes. Slowly and steadily, action is being taken to protect our seniors and their hard-earned money.