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Common Scams Targeting Seniors

There’s a number of reasons that older adults are common targets for unscrupulous scammers, looking to make a quick dishonest buck through trickery or exploiting fears. Older adults, especially ones living alone, might not be as tech or street savvy as today’s modern criminals, and might easily find themselves tricked by a slick, rehearsed script that details a plausible situation. But when you know the signs and the tricks, scams are easy to sniff out and recognize. With a little education and preparation, being victimized by these grifters can be a thing of the past. Read on to find out some common schemes that target the elderly.

Most scams fall under the purview of imposter scams. Someone will make contact, usually over the phone, sometimes by email, and pretend to be someone they’re not. Seniors are especially susceptible to this for a few reasons, from not necessarily being able to remember everyone they’ve met, to being one of the few demographics that still has landlines and can be looked up in the phone book.

One of the most common of these is someone calling and pretending to either be their bank, credit card company, utility company, or a government entity like the IRS. These calls usually start out big, with the caller on the other line feeding some urgent scare tactic like their account has been compromised, their power is about to shut off, or they’re about to be audited for tax fraud. This kind of opener serves to start the intended victim off unbalanced, as the shock of thinking they’re in trouble might serve to make them more susceptible to giving up their details, and not thinking too clearly about whether or not it makes sense.

With calls like these, knowing your financial institution’s policy on whatever they’re claiming is the best defense. Most banks, credit cards, or similar places, will never ask you to give up your info over the phone. And you’re always within your rights to ask to be transferred to a supervisor, a different department, or, if you’re not at all sure about who you’re talking to, you can always hang up, and then call them back yourself at whatever you know to be the official line. Usually printed on the back of your bank cards, or easily available by searching online.

Another common scam is someone calling you up, and pretending to be either a grandchild or a distant relative, in some sort of financial trouble and needing to be helped out. Sometimes they claim to need money for a travel ticket out of some city they’re stuck in, or sometimes they claim to be in jail. This is effective because it preys on our desire to help, and also as we age it becomes easy to lose track of relatives.

For this scam, asking for more details is key. Who they’re related to, the last time they saw you, etc. While they might try to hurry you and say there’s no time, if they really need help, they won’t mind waiting for you to verify first.