Scammers target seniors more aggressively than any other group. Recognizing the most common scams helps prevent your money and personal information from getting stolen.
When you’re contacted by someone—even if it’s someone you think you can trust— it’s wise to check for some common red flags.
Illustration: Sergiy Maidukov
Pressure to act quickly.
Scammers know that if you do your research, you’ll see through the scam. To prevent this, they will often pressure you to respond quickly. They might do this by claiming they have a warrant for your arrest, threatening that you’ll lose access to your account, saying that a loved one is in trouble, or something similar.
Requesting money, particularly in unusual ways.
Scammers will often ask for wire transfers, gift cards, or cash to prevent you or your financial institution from tracing or cancelling the transaction.
Asking for sensitive information.
Scammers try to collect sensitive information like passwords or social security and account numbers. Legitimate companies will almost never ask for this data and, if they do, should give you a secure way to send it. Regardless, never give this information to anyone without careful research.
If you encounter a situation that seems odd but doesn’t raise one of these red flags, trust your gut! Hang up, don’t reply, do your research, and get an outside opinion from someone you trust. Remember that scammers are trying to manipulate you, so be wary of sending anyone money, even if the person asking is someone you know.
Scammers are constantly updating their tactics, but here are a few of the most common scams targeting seniors:
- Medicare Scams: A fraudster claims to represent Medicare and asks for the victim’s sensitive information. They then use it to bill Medicare for services never provided. In a similar scam, scammers will advertise or provide medical services that are fraudulent and then bill Medicare to cover it.
- Grandparent Scams: The victim receives a call, email, or message on social media from someone impersonating a loved one, usually a grandchild. The imposter then claims that they’re in some kind of trouble and asks for money.
- Debt Collector or IRS Scams: A scammer contacts the victim claiming to be a debt collector or representative of the IRS who needs to collect money owed by the victim or their loved one. In another version of the scam, a fraudster reaches out to the family members of someone who recently passed away and claims that they are now liable for their debts.
- Romantic Scams: A con-artist deceitfully forms a relationship online—often to the point that the victim considers them to be a romantic partner. The scammer will then ask for money in a lump sum or smaller amounts over a longer period of time. Usually they claim this money will be used to support them, cover an emergency expense, or pay for them to travel.
- Lottery or Prize Scams: The victim receives a notification that they won a prize, often a cash award or a luxurious vacation. The victim is then asked to pay the taxes or a processing fee in order to receive their award. This scam may even come with a check that will eventually bounce once the victim deposits it but, by then, the scammer is long gone.
- Tech Support or Antivirus Scams: Victims get a popup, call, or email from someone claiming that there’s a virus on their device. The scammer says they can fix it by accessing the device or installing antivirus software. Once that happens, the charlatan steals the user’s sensitive data.
- Investment Scams: Scammers offer investment opportunities that are far more risky than they let on. Thieves may also claim to be financial advisors and, once they have access to the victim’s account, steal their money rather than investing it.
While we hope you find this content useful, it is only intended to serve as a starting point. Your next step is to speak with a qualified, licensed professional who can provide advice tailored to your individual circumstances. Nothing in this article, nor in any associated resources, should be construed as financial or legal advice. Furthermore, while we have made good faith efforts to ensure that the information presented was correct as of the date the content was prepared, we are unable to guarantee that it remains accurate today.
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