The Top 5 Scams Targeting Seniors and How to Prevent Them
When it comes to fraud and phishing scams, seniors are the most vulnerable targets as fraud strikes them more than any other age group. While anyone can fall victim to fraud, seniors are more vulnerable for a variety of reasons.
For one, seniors are generally more polite and willing to engage in conversations than any other age group, as they are often more isolated. Scammers also understand that older adults not only have much more in savings than younger adults, but they also may not be as computer savvy – making them a prime target for these scams.
It is important to be aware of the common scams you may be susceptible to online. It is also crucial to not only understand the steps you can take to avoid being the victim of fraud and phishing scams but also how to report them - as data finds that only 1 in 44 scams against seniors get reported due to shame or simply just not knowing how to.
Common Scams Against Seniors
What scams are more likely to target seniors? These are the most common forms of fraud and phishing scams you may be more likely to fall victim to:
Counterfeit drug scams: As seniors are often prescribed more prescription medication than any other age group, you may look online to find your prescription medication at a cheaper price. In turn, this will not only cause you to not only lose more money but also cause you to end up with counterfeit medication that could be extremely harmful to your health.
Tech support/anti-virus scams: While browsing the internet, you may come across an email in your inbox or a pop-up ad falsely saying that you have been infected with a virus and that you need to protect yourself. Once clicked on, you may be told to contact a tech support representative asking you to give up personal information to either pay for a repair or have this representative gain remote access to your system. Using this information, you could be targeted for either financial or identity theft.
Grandchild/relative in need scam: Criminals may contact you pretending to be a relative or grandchild in a situation requiring immediate financial help (such as being in jail or being involved in a car crash) and have you question whether you know who they are. If you go on to list the names of your actual grandchildren or relatives, they may use one of the names listed and ask you to wire transfer money or leave cash in an envelope at a disclosed location. The scammer will also often tell you not to mention the troubling situation to any other family member.
Telemarketing/Robo-call phone scams: There are several different ways that scammers use calls to their advantage. One popular method involves asking questions that elicit a yes or no response to record your voice. Once they have recorded their answer, they may use it as a voice signature in situations such as authorizing charges on stolen credit cards. Oftentimes, scammers will also disguise themselves as authority figures (such as bank or government officials) asking you for personal information over the phone.
Charity scams: As seniors make up a large demographic of those who donate to charities, scammers have used this to their advantage to capitalize on current events by creating fake charity fundraisers. Using events such as natural disasters, scammers will often set up a fake charity to either gain access to your personal information or to receive donations to pocket for themselves.
How Can I Protect Myself from Fraud?
One of the best ways to prevent yourself from falling victim to these scams is by simply being aware of the signs you should look out for. Here are 6 prevention steps and red flags you should look for.
- Understand that authority figures (such as government or bank officials) will never call you asking for sensitive or personal information such as your social security number, credit card number, or your PIN over the phone. You may be asked to verify your information if you are the one initiating the call to your bank or government official, but it will never be the other way around. If you are unsure about a call you received, you may always use a different line to call the verified number on the back of your credit/debit card to speak to someone at your bank regarding your suspicions.
- Before donating to any potential charity, ensure that you are researching the charity you are donating to, and understand that no charity would require you to wire transfer money or send gift cards. If you are unsure about a charity, you may choose to do a google search using the charity name and the keywords “fraud”, “scam”, or “review” next to it to look up any reviews.
- You may wish to install a trusted, anti-virus software on your computer to protect yourself in the case that you do click on a virus-infected pop-up link.
- Always handle any incoming calls from unknown numbers with caution. Understand that in most cases, companies will not reach out to ask for personal information through the phone or e-mail. If you are unsure about a call you are receiving, it's best to do a quick google search to find the number of the company and call back yourself. Additionally, be skeptical of calls and sales pitches that create a sense of urgency and understand that it is okay to hang up or say no if you are uncomfortable.
- Be cautious when it comes to suspicious emails. The best way to find out if an email is a phishing scam is to check if the message was sent from a public domain, as most companies will have their own domain for their email list. Unless you are sure that the email you are receiving is from a legitimate company/person, never click on any links or attachments as they may contain malware.
I have fallen for a scam. What steps should I take next?
If you suspect that you may have fallen victim to fraud, it is important to understand there is no shame in speaking about it with someone that you trust. Most scams targeted towards senior citizens go unreported - mainly due to embarrassment.
You should seek to contact your bank/financial institutions to freeze your cards, especially if you have given out any sensitive information over the phone or by email. Seek to immediately change any passwords you have connected to your banking/email accounts as well.
If you suspect that you have clicked on a phishing link, immediately disconnect your device from the internet to lower the risk of malware spreading to devices on the same network. With phishing attacks, there is a risk that your data may be compromised or deleted. You may wish to back up your files through a USB stick or cloud storage. Lastly, you should seek to scan your device for any malware. If you are unsure of how to do this yourself, you may choose to get it done by a friend or verified technical support professional in your area.
If you have fallen victim to a financial crime, you may wish to file a report with your local law enforcement. By submitting proof of the crime, you could help prevent this from happening to another vulnerable senior.