For countless years, senior citizens have been targeted by criminals. The vulnerable nature of older people opens them to potential scams. With so many tech-savvy seniors, the Internet has created a breeding ground for cons. More than half of the people age 65+ are active Internet users. We can’t stop crooks from singling out older folks, but we can help protect our loved ones from these vultures. Below are some tips to help seniors avoid fraud.
The key to prevention is knowledge. An individual must recognize a fraudulent scheme in order to avoid it. Criminals will contact potential victims in numerous ways. It may come through email, snail mail, telephone calls or texts, and even in person.
- Identity theft – A thief doesn’t need much information from a person in order to steal their identity. If they are contacting your loved one, they probably already have the birth date, phone number, name and address. All a malicious person needs now is the last four digits of a Social Security number to match with this information. Armed with this data, they can open bank accounts and credit cards in the victim’s name. They may even be able to access current accounts or take out loans, essentially destroying the person’s financial life.
- Telemarketing – It is not illegal for telemarketers to call and attempt to sell things to retirees . However, callers often use this as an excuse to fish for private data. The fraudulent telemarketer gathers bank account or credit card information to use without authorization. They might also request passwords to access accounts.
- Grandchild impersonation – In this case, a senior receives a phone call from a distressed sounding person saying, “grandma?” or “grandpa?” The victim believes this is a grandchild calling, so of course they respond. The grandchild impersonator then tells some traumatic story that requires the grandparent to wire money. The story often involves bail or hotel money, perhaps a lost wallet or a mugging also.
- Sweepstakes – In this scenario the target receives a very official-looking check and letter from a fake sweepstakes. The sender requires the recipient mail a portion of the money back before depositing the check. So, the victim sends the money but a few weeks later the “sweepstakes check” bounces.
- Charities – Fake charity organizations contact seniors to beg for donations.
- Financial exploitation – These are simply dishonest people taking advantage of aged individuals. It may manifest as an “advisor” persuading seniors into bad investments or home maintenance workers who never complete the job.
- Trusted organizations – Criminals place trusted names and logos on snail mail and email, in order to entice readers to share information. Phishing emails are a perfect example of this. The victim receives an email from their bank or credit card company that seems perfectly legitimate. The message states that there is a problem with the account and the recipient must click a link to log in and correct the issue. However, it is just someone impersonating the bank or credit card company with the intention of stealing account information.
- Religious affiliations – Your loved one may receive phone calls or texts from a bogus church or religious leader. These will often be signed by a “ “Reverend’ or “Bishop.” They typically ask for money or personal information.
- Scare tactics – This usually looks like a notification that services or accounts will be discontinued unless the reader clicks a link, shares information, or pays a fee.
- IRS phone call – This is a relatively new scam where someone calls claiming to be from the IRS stating that if the individual doesn’t pay an overdue tax bill immediately, the police will be dispatched to arrest them. Please note, the real IRS will never call.
- Stop unsolicited communication – Add phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry. This will stop the majority of sales calls. Make all phone numbers unlisted or private. Most phone carriers offer this as a feature. You can also opt out of receiving junk snail mail.
- Email safety – Avoid opening emails from unfamiliar people/companies. Furthermore, even if the sender appears official or familiar, you should not click on a link or share confidential information.
- Do not divulge personal data – It is important that you never share identifying information unless you are 100% certain that you are communicating with a trusted organization/person. The best way to ensure that you are speaking to the correct person and not a crook, is to call an official phone number or log into your account through the browser, not by clicking a link. For example, if you receive an email stating that your account is going to be closed unless you login to correct some information; simply type the address in your browser and visit the site. You can then log in safely, without compromising your information. Moreover, if you receive a phone call or email from what appears to be your bank, find the actual phone number from one of your statements or their official website and simply contact them directly, rather than sharing information with someone who calls you.
- Online payment method – Use a credit card rather than a debit card for use on the Internet. Credit cards generally have better security measures in place.
- Antivirus software – Make sure your device has up-to-date antivirus protection.
- Passwords – create strong passwords
- Do not wire money – This is an outdated method of sending money. It has been replaced with safer, more efficient ways of transferring funds. If someone asks you to wire them money, it is most likely a scam. Additionally, if someone asks you to purchase gift cards and read them the serial numbers, this is a red flag.
Knowledge truly is power, and it is our best defense against fraud. Unfortunately, criminals are not going away anytime soon so we must be vigilant in educating older individuals about these dangers.