The United States has an aging population, and senior citizens are a prime target for fraudsters. One recent study from New York State estimates that only one out of ever 44 cases of fraud against seniors is reported1, and it is thought that fraud and financial exploitation against seniors can cost the population as much as $36 billion per year2. That’s why you should take fraud prevention for seniors so seriously.
Fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and new technologies mean that scammers can target people on the other side of the world with ease. In addition, scammers can cast their nets wide, testing the waters with a huge number of people and then investing time into only those who respond.
The good news is that there are things you can do to avoid being a target.
How to Avoid Phone Scams
Phone scams are quite common, and typically scammers follow the same script. They will pretend to be from a well-known company and have a quite plausible reason for calling. Once you continue the conversation with them, they will try to get you to disclose personal information or hand over your financial details. To prevent getting scammed, you should just hang up.
Do not do this.
Reputable companies will not make unsolicited telephone calls and then ask a customer for personal information. You can protect yourself from phone scams by:
- Adding your landline to the National Do Not Call Registry
- Installing call blocking software on your mobile device to block known scammers and unknown numbers
- Refusing to engage with unexpected callers – if someone calls claiming to be from your bank or another official agency, hang up and call back using a number from the organization’s website or from official documents
- Do not give your telephone number out to marketing companies or on ‘unknown’ websites
How to Avoid Email Scams
Email scams are becoming increasingly common so cybersecurity steps should be part of your plan. Scammers send official-looking emails claiming to be debt collectors, delivery companies or financial institutions. These emails often, but not always, have attachments or include links that they ask the recipient to click. They will also include “tracking bugs” that the scammers use to find out whether an email has been opened.
To avoid falling victim to email scams:
- Use an email service with a good spam filter, such as Gmail
- Disable images in your emails: this will stop ‘tracking bugs’ from working
- Do not open attachments unless you were expecting them
- If someone emails you asking for money, call them on a number you already have for them to discuss it before sending payment
- Do not click links in unsolicited emails.
- If you get an email from a bank, utility company or other organization, don’t click on the link – type the address you know for them into your web browser and log in to your account that way
- Do not post your email address in discussion forums or comment threads
- Use different passwords for your email address, important financial accounts, and less important games or social websites
- Do not tell anyone your passwords. If you are worried about losing passwords, save them in a password manager
If you or someone close to you has fallen victim to Internet fraud, you can report it via the Internet Crime Complaint Center. 3
How to Avoid Door-to-Door Scams
Door-to-door scams can take many forms. The simplest is for a person or group of people to target an area with a lot of senior citizens and solicit donations for a fake charity. This will often happen after a natural disaster or some other even that has generated a lot of attention in the news.
Another common scam, again one that can happen after a natural disaster, is for scammers to call on people in a neighborhood offering to do home repairs. These callers may be cowboys who do bad quality work, or they may be scammers who pressure the senior into paying upfront for emergency repairs, and are never seen again.
Some criminals operate in even more deceitful ways. They work in groups, observe a neighborhood then if they figure out that a person lives alone one of them will knock on the door and engage that person in a long conversation while their colleague goes to the rear of the property and attempts to break in to steal cash or valuables.
Studies show that seniors are typically more trusting than young people, 4 and scammers prey on this and the way that many seniors do not wish to get into confrontations. When they are faced with an imposing person demanding money or trying to make them feel guilty they may feel that they have no choice but to comply.
To avoid falling victim to this sort of scam, be wary of who you answer the door to. Some seniors simply avoid answering the door at all to unknown callers. Others practice scripts to help them feel more confident at terminating conversations quickly.
In general, you should refuse to sign up for anything that a door-to-door caller is selling. If you want to donate to a charity, take their details and confirm that they are a registered charitable organization or non-profit before you send money, and confirm that the bank details you have are real.
If you need work done on your home, either because you want to renovate or because your home was damaged in a storm, call multiple companies, get quotes and compare them. Never agree to work with a tradesman who knocks on your door out of the blue.
Caution is the First Step to Fraud Prevention for Seniors
It is important for seniors and the elderly to have a base level of digital literacy to reduce their chance of becoming a scammers next target. Scammers are charismatic, persuasive, and good at spotting people who are tired and likely to agree to whatever it is they are trying to get people to do. The best way to avoid scammers is to learn to say “No”. Do not worry about offending people.
If a doorstep caller is genuine they will understand that you want to verify their identity first. If a bank has actually emailed you, then you will be able to access the correspondence in your online account or find out what it’s about when you call them.
You have nothing to lose through being cautious, and now you know the strategies that scammers use, you are in a good position to avoid them.