By Michael Osakwe, NextAdvisor.com
Although research has found that millennials are most likely to get scammed, the sheer number of scams specifically targeting seniors is astounding. While there are no hard numbers, a report by the FTC estimates that nearly a third of scam victims who contacted them in 2016 were seniors. The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, a task force in the United States Senate that conducts research on issues affecting seniors, has partnered with departments like the FTC to help address this issue. In addition, the committee has devoted a considerable number of resources to aid seniors who have been or could become victims of major scams. Last month, in an effort to warn seniors, the committee released a report detailing the top 10 scams targeting seniors in 2016. The report uses data from real complaints made to the committee’s fraud hotline and provides case studies of incidents that actual victims of these scams allowed to be shared. We break down the key takeaways from this report and what to do if you fall victim to one of these scams.
What are the top 10 senior scams?
In order of rank, the list contains the following scams:
1. IRS impersonation scams. These scams usually involve phone calls from people who claim to be affiliated with the IRS and demand immediate payment of the victim’s tax bill. We’ve talked about these scams many times before and noted the key to beating them is realizing that neither the IRS, nor anyone calling on behalf of the IRS will demand immediate payment from you, even if you have back-owed taxes. This means if you get a threatening call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, it’s a scam and you should hang up the phone immediately and report the scam to the IRS.
2. Sweepstakes scams. This type of scam is very similar to the fake “free cruise” offers of the 1990s. Modern sweepstakes scams (note that they may also be referred to as Jamaican sweepstakes scams) differ slightly in that they usually involve a foreigner calling to notify a victim that they’ve won a random lottery or monetary prize abroad; however, victims are usually told they have to pay taxes on the prize money before receiving their payout. The “tax payments” go to the scammer who can either repeat the scam, asking the victim for more money, or run off with the initial payment. Those who receive a call like this should follow the FTC’s advice to report the scam.
3. Robo/unwanted calls. These are scams that leverage the technology of robocalling and caller-ID spoofing in order to target victims en masse and bypass Do-Not-Call registries. If you receive a call from a person or organization you don’t recognize, asking for personal information, you should hang-up and report it to the FCC.
4. Tech support scams. We’ve covered these types of scams before and, unfortunately, they’re still as popular as ever. Tech support scams typically start with a call from someone claiming to be a representative of a specific tech company like Apple or, most commonly, Microsoft. They ask if they can “fix” problems that they’ve detected remotely on your devices, but their story is a guise — the scammer will instead either skim money from you or install malware on your system. All tech support scams should be reported to the FTC.
5. Elder financial abuse. Elder financial abuse refers to a series of behaviors, including famililar identity theft, which we’ve discussed before. All elder financial abuse involves misusage of an older adult’s funds, credit, property or assets. This abuse can be carried out by individuals — usually unscrupulous financial advisors or malicious friends or family — claiming to have a victim’s best interests at heart. These scams can take many different forms, but they’re all ploys to get a senior to give up control of their own finances. Victims of elder financial abuse should report it to the Adult Protective Services in their state, local police as well as their attorney or bank.
6. Grandparent scams. Another scam we’ve talked about, grandparent scams involve fabricated scenarios in which the victim is notified by a caller that their grandchild is in duress and requires money and assistance. A hooked victim then provides payments to help out their “grandchild.” Those who have fallen victim of grandparent scams should report the incident to the FBI.
7. Romance scams/confidence fraud. These are cons that usually involve scammers befriending an older adult to get them to willingly give up money. We’ve covered many of these before, especially ones involving seniors being scammed while dating online. If someone you don’t know very well is asking for money online, you should stop talking to them immediately and report them to the site you’re using, as it is likely a scam.
8. Government grant scams. In this scam, fraudsters pretend to be affiliated with the “Federal Grants Administration” or similar departments, none of which actually exist. Like with the sweepstakes scam, the victim is offered a lump sum of free money which requires some “taxes” to be paid off before it can be claimed. Government grant scams should also be reported to the FTC.
9. Counterfeit check scams. These types of scams cover a very broad category of scam, which includes things like card cracking and phony checks. Most of the scams listed in the report resemble card cracking, albeit with a slightly different context. For example, one check scam involves an online auction that requires you to cash a check from a duplicitous buyer. We’ve talked briefly about why checks are not a secure form of payment, and those same reasons are very relevant to the success of these scams. The key to beating this scam is to avoid depositing checks from strangers into your bank account. If you receive a check from someone you don’t know, you should follow the steps detailed by the FTC.
10. Identity theft. Identity theft scams need no introduction, as they’re something we hear about all the time. The only thing that surprised us when we spotted identity theft on the list was that it made the No. 10 spot — we expected it to be higher. While it may not be a No. 1 scam for seniors, some aspects of identity theft, like tax identity theft, should be on all consumers’ radar. If you fall victim to any type of identity theft, you should follow the steps detailed here.
With scammers trying their luck daily, scams have become an unfortunate aspect of our modern world. Follow our scams blog to keep up with the newest scams and the latest developments in scam and fraud prevention.
This blog post originally appeared on NextAdvisor.com.