Avoiding Scams Targeting Seniors Means Being Vigilant

how to avoid senior scam and senior fraud

At Green Hill, we host many resident and community activities and events, and we share information with residents and their families regarding a myriad of health and wellness issues through our newsletter, website and social media platforms. A consistent concern for seniors is how to avoid scams that target them and their resources.

A bill to prevent mail, telemarketing and internet fraud targeting seniors in the United States and to promote the effort to increase public awareness of the impact of this kind of senior fraud was introduced by the Junior Senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, on March 7th. The bill S547 has been assigned to the Congressional Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation before sending to the House or Senate for a vote.

Keeping Loved Ones Safe from Senior Scams

Second to the health of your senior loved ones, perhaps the most worrisome fear is that they will be victimized by someone perpetrating a fraud against them. It is a real concern as criminals get more sophisticated and use the internet and social media to phish out information targeting older adults. Sadly, most cases of senior fraud are perpetrated by someone they know, or someone they feel they have gotten to know.

Top Ten Senior Scams and Frauds

A recent article in USA today stated, “An IRS impersonation fraud that has victimized thousands of Americans leads a 2017 U.S. Senate ranking of the Top 10 scams targeting senior citizens. Dubbed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration as the most pervasive impersonation fraud in IRS history, the swindle involves suspected scammers based in the U.S. and India who telephone Americans and threaten arrests unless purported tax debts aren’t paid immediately. At least 1.97 million people have been targeted, with as many as 200 victimized per week during the scam’s peak last year, according to the inspector general.”

The US Senate’s Aging Committee also listed other top senior scams including;

  • Sweepstakes scams – someone calls saying that you have won a prize and asks for banking or other personal information.
  • Computer scams – people request remote access to your computer and plant viruses and steal information like photos or records, and require paid ransoms to get your information back.
  • Financial abuse of elders – access to bank accounts and social security accounts are given to family or caregivers who then take advantage of the elder.
  • The Grandparent scam – someone calls the senior claiming to be a grandchild or relative who needs an immediate transfer of money to help them with an emergency.

There are a number of additional types of frauds perpetrated against seniors. The best defense against fraud is to be proactive and to keep personal information as secure as possible. It is easy for scammers to get a senior’s phone number whether one has a land line or mobile phone, even if you have signed up for the Do Not Call registry. The internet is a treasure trove of personal information. Phone numbers and emails used for online sales can be easily sold to other vendors.

Keep in mind that seniors who are often isolated may more often engage in conversation with a stranger. This leaves them vulnerable to answering questions and providing sensitive information by which they can be defrauded of money or other assets. Remind your loved one to never give out any credit card, financial information, passwords, banking or other information over the phone, or online. No bank, federal or state agency will ever ask for that information over the phone or by email. Credit card companies, however, will ask for personal information, so be very careful when applying for credit cards online. Seniors should be encouraged to refrain from making any credit card purchases over the phone, especially when out in public, as anyone can overhear their card information. The FBI states “If you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations.”

Tips to Decrease the Risk of Falling Victim to Senior Scams

Internet and Social Media Security Tips

Senior citizens are using the internet and social media more than ever. While this provides a great way to keep in touch with family and friends, it also creates a new level of vulnerability. Check the security settings on your social media platforms; they should not be set to ‘public’, and you should use only the ‘friends’ or ‘friends and family’ settings. Do not invite the public to ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ you. Plus, facial recognition software and page ‘likes’ can identify senior citizens to scam artists and make them vulnerable to a false sense relationship building on line, so make sure you cannot be tagged in photos on social media pages. Do not post photos when you are out and about or traveling, as it will be clear to scammers that the home is empty.

Scammers will ‘Phish’ for information by posing as known corporations, banks or government entities and send emails that may look quite authentic. “Phishing scams are an attempt to fool a victim into revealing personal or financial information about them or clicking on a link,” reports Mhealthtalk.com. Return email addresses may even look very like the company that they purport to be. Seniors should not click through or open any email attachments they are not expecting.

Many seniors are learning how to pay their bills online directly from their checking accounts. Features like automatic bill pay are a convenient way to eliminate the hassle of writing checks, getting stamps and going to the post office. However, it is important to check your bank account online multiple times a month to make sure that the charges are accurate. When shopping online always use a secure pay portal when you use your credit card. Never use a bank debit card that is attached to a bank account.

Do not buy pharmaceuticals from unknown vendors online. Many times, these medicines are found to be counterfeit and credit card information can be appropriated.

Change your passwords periodically and do not keep a copy of your passwords on your hard drive, or on your phone. It is safest to keep a record of your passwords in writing in a safe place.

When shopping, if you are asked for your social security number or driver’s license number to open a store credit card, do not give the information out loud. Write it down on a single sheet of paper, not a pad of paper where the imprint may show on a subsequent page. When the cashier is finished entering the information take the paper back. Shred it or rip it up as finely as possible and dispose of it at home.

Mail and Door-to-Door Frauds

Fraudulent mail solicitations have reduced as a major type of senior scam, as they are expensive to facilitate. However, they still do happen. Refrain from mailing any credit card or bank information, social security number or passwords to anyone. If someone comes to your door soliciting for donations or sales, do not open the door. Most municipalities require door-to-door solicitors to get a permit, but a permit does not mean one is safe. Do not open the door, or provide any personal information to strangers for any reason.

Older adults are often victimized by contractors and service persons who prey on vulnerable customers. If you need to do repairs to your home or car make sure that you get a recommendation from a trusted source and try to have a person you trust with you when a vendor stops by to review the job. Get a second opinion to make sure the work a vendor says is needed is accurate. Never pay a vendor more than 25% of a job before they begin. Check with the state Better Business Bureau for any record of complaints against the vendor before you contract.

Two prior pieces of legislation called the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act was have been introduced to Congress, most recently during in the 114th Congress on June 15, 2016 by Senator Amy Klobuchar. The comprehensive legislation would have established an advisory office within the Bureau of Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission to help prevent senior fraud, and create a website and other materials to help seniors learn about and avoid being victimized. As of today, none of these senior fraud protection bills have been enacted into law. Let’s hope this latest version by Senator Gillibrand is passed.

It is important that senior citizens and their caregivers stay vigilant in protecting seniors from identity theft and scams and that the government provide information and support in that effort.

For more information on scams against seniors you may visit the websites of the National Council On Aging and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

To learn more about the lifestyle and residential options available at Green Hill, please contact us today.