Fanessa Williams, 64, received a call from an alleged IRS agent about monies owed to Uncle Sam last year. The caller stated how she and her husband, Carl, were delinquent on their taxes and would be arrested if they did not provide credit or debit card information to pay the debt. “At firstl, I thought the call was real, but then my sensibilities kicked in. We owed the government nothing! After I threatened to report the call to the police, the ‘agent’ immediately hung up. It’s so scary to be a victim of these scams,” says Fanessa. The Charlotte, North Carolina resident later found out that the IRS never makes phone calls about taxes owed. A written notification is the route they take in order to let people know about their tax issues.
Scams are run daily on unsuspecting people like Fanessa, and seasoned folks are especially vulnerable. According to statistics, people north of age 65 are swindled out of nearly $3 billion a year due to scams. Many cons are done via phone; these callers may demand money, state you have a refund due, and try to trick you into sharing private information. These scammers can sound convincing when they call. They may know a lot about you and can even alter the caller ID to make it look like a valid organization is calling. They use fake names and give out phony identification badge numbers. They also often leave an ‘urgent’ callback request if you don’t answer.
Why are seniors easy marks?
After a lifetime of working and investing, seniors possess an enormous concentration of wealth. One study says baby boomers control more than $13 trillion in assets. According to the FBI, seasoned folks are easy prey. ‘People who grew up in the 30s, 40s, and 50s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits,’ notes the FBI in a warning about senior fraud.
Research suggests that seniors are less likely than other consumer-age groups to report becoming victims. Sometimes they are too afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone they have lost their money. In some cases, they do not even realize they have been victimized. The damage can be as minimal as a few unwanted magazine subscriptions or as extreme as losing an entire life’s savings.
How can you protect yourself from becoming a victim of a con game?
Check out these top 10 fraud scams culled together by various law enforcement and agencies on aging that you should be aware of:
- Medicare Scams: Medicare scams involve scamming Medicare beneficiaries by claiming to be Medicare representatives and asking for personal and medical information. The scammer might tell you that you need a new Medicare card or offer you discounted additional coverage. But they’ll then use or sell your personal and medical information for identity theft and medical identity theft. Alternatively, some Medicare scams advertise free or low-cost services or equipment to seniors. But the scammers deliver shoddy services or equipment and then bill Medicare for the full amount.
- Counterfeit Prescription Drugs: This is most often perpetrated via the internet when seniors search for better prices on specialized medications. Not only is there a danger of paying for meds that will not help the senior’s medical condition, but victims may purchase unsafe substances that can cause harm.
- Funeral and Cemetery Scams: Scammers read the obituaries and take advantage of the grieving widow or widower by claiming the deceased owes an outstanding debt and then extorts money to settle the false claim. Another scam perpetuated by disreputable funeral homes preys on the unfamiliarity of family members with the considerable costs of services by adding unnecessary charges to the bill.
- Online Romance Scams: Romance scams occur when someone builds a romantic or platonic relationship with you and then starts asking you for money. The scammers might create complete social media profiles and have sophisticated backstories for their fake identities. Also, while dating sites are a common starting point, some scammers will approach you on social media or through online games. The FTC reports that people lost $1.3 billion to romance scams in 2021 alone, more than in any other FTC fraud category. People of all ages fall victim to romance scams, but median losses for victims who are over 70 were $9,000—that’s compared with $750 for those ages 18 to 29. It may be a long con, with someone taking weeks or months getting to know you before asking for anything. Once they do, the scammers may ask you to invest in a business proposition or send them money.
- Telemarketing Scams: Scammers commonly use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people. Seniors make twice as many purchases by phone than the national average. With no paper trail or face-to-face interaction, these scams are incredibly difficult to trace. To add insult to injury, once a successful deal has been made, the buyer’s name is shared with other scammers who are on the prowl for easy marks.
- Internet Fraud: Seniors who are not computer savvy can be easy prey for scams that cause computer viruses that open information on the user’s computer to scammers.
- Investment Schemes: Many seniors find themselves planning for retirement and managing their savings after retirement; investment schemes have long been a successful way to take advantage of seniors. They can range everywhere from pyramid schemes like the one that Bernie Madoff perpetrated, to complex financial products that many economists don’t even understand.
- Homeowner/Reverse Mortgages: The reverse mortgage has mushroomed in recent years. Unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property.
- Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams: You might get a call, email, text, or letter telling you that you’ve won a prize or can enter into a sweepstake—but it’s all made up. The scammers will often tell you that you need to pay upfront, perhaps to buy sweepstake tickets or to cover a processing fee. They’ll keep the payment and you won’t get anything in return. Additionally, they may also ask for your personal information, which they can then steal and use.
- The Grandparent Scam: This simple scam involves a call to an older person by an imposter grandchild who asks for money to resolve an unexpected financial problem. The money is usually paid to Western Union or MoneyGram which don’t always require identification to collect.
4 Ways to Prevent Senior Fraud
Help protect yourself and reduce your risk of financial abuse by following these tips:
- Avoid isolation by staying involved with friends, family, and community activities.
- Refuse to engage with anyone who calls or comes to the door selling anything or looking for donations.
- Using direct deposit for checks ensures that they go right into your account and are protected.
- Never give credit card, social security number, banking, or other personal information out over the phone unless you initiate the call.
Report ALL scams!
Better Business Bureau–www.bbb.org
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau–They protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and take action against companies that break the law, 1-855-411-2372; www.consumerfinance.gov
FTC Do Not Call Registry–register scam numbers and stop the calls to your home, 1-888-382-1222; www.ftc.gov/donotcall
Major Credit Bureaus—Stay on top of your credit profile, get a free annual credit report, 1-877-322-8228; www.annualcreditreport.com
Social Security Administration–1-800-772-1213; www.ssa.gov
Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)–If you know you don’t owe taxes or have no reason to believe that you do, report the incident. 1-800-366-4484; www.tigta.gov