Today’s seniors are overwhelmingly trusting and polite and because they’re a generation of hard workers, many have accrued good credit and savings. While these are all impressive attributes, unfortunately they put this demographic at great risk. The FBI reports that millions of older Americans fall victim to some type of financial swindle, known as a ‘scam’. It’s a shameful and pervasive characteristic of our society. The National Council on Aging estimates that one in 10 Americans ages 60+ experience some type of financial abuse each year. As much as $3 billion is lost each year to financial scams.
While new schemes are always evolving, currently, the most common scams targeting seniors include:
- Government impersonation scam-Someone posing as a government representative contacts the individual, threatening to arrest, deport, prosecute, suspend driver’s license, etc. unless funds or private information including social security numbers are provided immediately.
- Sweepstakes/charity/lottery scam-Someone posing as a representative from a legitimate organization contacts the individual to inform them of a ‘win’ waiting to be claimed upon payment of a fee.
- Grandparent scam-Someone posing as a loved one claims to have immediate financial need.
- Tech support scam-Someone posing as a technician offers to fix what is a non-existent computer issue in order to gain remote access to electronic devices and private information.
- Home repair scam-Someone, often appearing in person, reports maintenance or home improvement requirements, and demands advance payment for services never provided.
- Charity scams-Relying on the goodwill of the individual, someone calls asking for donations to a good cause. They may use a name similar to a legitimate charity.
- Investment scams-The perpetrator stresses benefits including ‘risk free,’ high-return’, etc. with high pressure sales.
- Reverse mortgage-While legitimate reverse mortgages can help turn a senior’s home equity into monthly income, there are many scams involving mortgage relief, house flipping and more.
- Medicare/health insurance scams-Perpetrators pose as Medicare representatives to get private information
- Romance scam-Someone poses as an interested romantic partner and then seeks financial assistance.
Technology has an active role in scams. This includes:
- Robocalls-These are phone scams using sophisticated technology for dialing many numbers around the world. Often these use tactics including a fake warning of a warranty expiration, etc. An especially scary practice is when the call asks, “Can you hear me?” the victim responses “yes.” The scammer hangs up, having obtained the necessary voice signature to authorize credit cards, etc.
- Phishing-Emails and text messages are made to appear as if they are from a trusted company, bank, or credit card company. They request personal information or ask that you update credit cards.
- Spoofing technology enables the perpetrator to disguise their email address, sender name, phone number, or URL to convince someone that they are interacting with a trusted source
Recommendations to avoid being a victim of a scam, include the following:
- If there’s a deal that sounds too good to be true, search online for the contact info and offer. Victims are likely to have posted about similar experiences.
- Don’t yield to pressure to act quickly.
- If someone questionable gains access to your device or any accounts, contact financial institutions immediately.
- Have computer anti-virus and security software and keep them up to date.
- Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, door-to-door visitors, and mailings.
- Never send personal information, gifts, money, or gift cards to anyone who has not been verified.
- Download or click links in emails or texts only if you know the sender. Never do this with messages from a stranger or questionable sender.
- Have your telephone number unlisted.
- Consistently check your credit reports.
- Monitor your financial accounts.
- Set up two-factor or multi-factor authentication whenever possible, and don’t disable it.
- Do not click on links in unverifiable emails or texts. If you feel like an organization is truly trying to contact you, go to their website and call the number listed.
- Be careful with the information you share on social media including pet names, birthdays, schools, etc. You may inadvertently be sharing information that would enable a scammer to guess your passwords or answer security questions.
There are thankfully, a growing number of resources for seniors who are anxious about the possibility of becoming victims of scams.
- AARP has a Fraud Resource Center including tip sheets on how to recognize and avoid common cams. They also have a bi-weekly Watchdog Alert.
- Blocking Robocalls is increasingly effective with technology including call-filtering and clocking apps.
Lexington Square Senior Living Communities in Lombard and Elmhurst take the financial security and peace of mind of area seniors seriously. The senior living communities will be hosting Prevent Scams Against Seniors as part of their Lex and Learn series, designed to help area residents remain informed about important topics. Experts from our local police departments will present the valuable information. The events will be held on October 27th. Admission is free but RSVPs are required. For additional information or to register, call Lexington Square Lombard at 630-620-0099 and Elmhurst at 630-832-5959.