Internet scams are big business, especially those targeting older adults. In 2021 alone, over 90,000 seniors were victims of fraud, resulting in a net loss of 1.7 billion dollars. But why are older adults so often targeted by scammers, and how can you protect yourself from becoming another statistic?
Why Online Scammers Target Seniors
Financial scams are difficult to prosecute because so many go unreported. There are numerous reasons for this. It may be that the victim of a scam never realizes that the request wasn’t legitimate, or they may be so embarrassed to learn that they were scammed that they don’t even report the crime. Older adults are especially hesitant to report a scam, making them more desirable targets. They also tend to have access to more funds via investments, savings and Medicare and Social Security benefits, than younger people.
It’s important to realize that there’s no shame in falling for an internet scam. Fraudsters have become increasingly sophisticated over the years. However, there are some ways you can educate and protect yourself to mitigate the risk of being scammed.
The following seven scams are some of the most common targeting seniors today.
- Imposter Scams
As children, most of us are taught to respect and trust government and financial institutions. Scammers take advantage of this trust by impersonating government agencies such as the IRS, Social Security Administration or a banking institution. These requests can come in via email, phone or text message. Many look and sound authentic. Emails often include a link to “update your payment details” or “resolve your account issue.” These links route users to faux landing pages that look like legitimate websites. They will ask for your personal and/or financial information, and once it’s input into this insecure system, it can be used to steal your identity, take out credit cards in your name, or drain any tax refunds or Social Security benefits due to you.
How to protect yourself: If contacted by email, phone or text by someone who says they are a member of an institution you trust, contact that agency directly instead of through this first contact. Call a verified phone number or visit a verified website directly by inputting the correct website address into your web browser. Never, ever give out financial or personal information to someone over the phone or via email or text without confirming their identity.
2. Sweepstakes Scams
The sweepstakes or lottery scam has a long history, and this is because it continues to be so successful. The internet has only made this type of scam easier to commit. These scammers contact their targets via email, phone, text messages and even pop-up ads and congratulate the receiver on winning a “prize.” When the target clicks a link or asks to claim the prize, they are directed to send money, gift cards or even cash up front in order to “cover taxes and processing fees.” Needless to say, the prizes never materialize, and hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars are swindled away from seniors this way.
How to protect yourself:
No legitimate sweepstakes or lottery venture will demand any form of payment in order to receive or claim your “prize.” In fact, doing so is illegal. If you are asked to provide any kind of financial information or payment in the form of gift cards, wire transfers, cash or other means of payment, delete the correspondence or hang up the phone immediately. If you suspect you have been scammed in this way, you can report it to the FTC.
3. Friends and Family Scams
Many of us have large extended networks of friends and families living across the nation and the globe. This is especially true of older adults, which makes them the preferred target for this type of scam. This could be an email, text message or phone call from someone who pretends to be a grandchild or other family member or friend. Email addresses can easily be “spoofed” to appear as if they are coming from someone you know. Phone callers may even ask you to “guess” who is calling, and then pretend to be the person you guess. In every case, no matter how you are contacted, the person will ask for money in the form of wire transfers, gift cards, cash or another type of online currency. They may even pose as a lawyer, doctor or police officer demanding payment to “help” your grandchild or friend get out of a dangerous situation.
How to protect yourself: It’s important to remember that these types of scams are designed to use our emotions against us. They will also apply pressure and scare tactics to try and confuse you or force you into making a decision without fully thinking it through. If someone asks for help, contact them via a verified phone number or call another friend or relative to check in. For instance, if someone claiming to be your grandchild asks for money, call their parents to verify their claims.
Other Types of Internet Fraud
Other types of internet and email fraud occur frequently, and they are changing all the time. Generally, they are designed to prey on our fears and emotions. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in COVID-19 scams that offered vaccines, “miracle” cures or testing in exchange for cash or gift cards. Seniors may also be asked to provide Medicare details over the phone or email to schedule a test or vaccine, and then their Medicare information is hijacked to submit fraudulent claims. Investment scams also tend to rise in popularity during uncertain economic times, leveraging our fears about an unstable economy. If you are offered an “investment opportunity” that is “guaranteed” to be “low risk, high return” it is probably a scam.
How to protect yourself: A dose of healthy suspicion is needed whenever you are approached for personal details or cash from anyone claiming to be a friend, family member, financial or government institution online or via text or email. The old adage remains just as true today in the age of the internet as it was prior: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Always double and triple verify any person or entity seeking this type of information.
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