Helping Seniors Avoid Scams
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Helping Seniors Avoid Scams

Sadly, financial abuse and scams targeting seniors is on the rise. The Federal Trade Commission reports that older adults and seniors lose more money to scammers than people in younger cohorts. The average senior over age 80 lost $1,700 to scams and cons, compared to just $188 lost by people aged 19 or younger, according to the FTC.

What is it that makes senior citizens common targets? There isn’t any one factor that makes scammers target them, but a constellation of many different ones. For one, older Americans, just by virtue of more time spent accumulating it, have more wealth than younger people, usually with much of it invested in their homes or retirement savings. Another reason scammers frequently target the elderly is because of the perception of older people as frail, or having declined mental states. The seniors of today also grew up in a more trusting time, and free from all the complicated technology many scammers use to trick them. And many older adults are too prideful, and don’t report that they’ve been scammed out of fear of embarrassment.

There are many common scams that target seniors, and tend to follow fairly predictable routines.

  • Lottery scam: A senior will receive a phone call telling them they’ve won millions of dollars, but they’ll first need to pay administrative fees or taxes to claim it.
  • Grandparent scam: This scam takes the form of a call or email to a grandparent, posing as a law enforcement official, a medical professional, or a grandchild in distress. Scammers will ask for money to be sent to cover the costs of medical bills, bail, or legal fees.
  • Romance scam: This scam strictly works online. Scammers will target divorced or widowed seniors, posing as available and interested partners, with the aim of charming the target out of money down the line. This is also known as “catfishing”
  • Social security: Scammers will pretend to be representatives of Social Security Administration, claiming they need money to adjust a senior's Cost of Living Adjustment.
  • Medicare: Scammers pose as medicare officials, and collect a senior’s personal information, claiming they need it to issue a new healthcare card.

Preventing someone falling victim to a scam doesn’t take any special skills, simply some awareness of what to look out for.

  • Threatening behavior: Many times, scammers will claim there’s an imminent danger or risk, to force you into making decisions fast without thinking about the consequences.
  • Fake caller IDs: Con artists and scammers will disguise their number using a fake caller ID program.
  • Impersonation: Scammers will often pretend to be a government official or someone else of authority to trick you into following their orders.
  • Personal information: Con artists will be persistent in asking for things like Social Security numbers, account numbers, or other confidential identifying info.
  • Check in with friends and family: If something seems suspicious or off, a good idea is to relay the situation to your friends and family and ask them what they think of it.
  • Free travel: Many scams start out with an offer of travel deals, to entice you into giving up vital info.