Helping Seniors Avoid Online Scams

June 26, 2023

We’ve all heard horror stories! Someone’s elderly parents or grandparents are taken in by unscrupulous scammers preying on an unwitting and vulnerable victim. We know it’s happening and it’s becoming more and more prevalent. 

No matter how new, attractive, or promising a scam may sound, the result is always the same: you or your elderly parents lose money. From pretending to be a loved one in trouble, or representing a loved one in trouble, to posing as a government employee, scammers use an array of methods to trick your loved ones out of their hard-earned cash. 

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, seniors account for more than $3 billion in annual losses due to fraud. Here are a few of the most common types of scams and what you and your elderly loved ones can do to precipitate and hopefully avoid them! 

The Grandparent Scam: In this very common plot, the scammers will pose as one of your grandchildren who has been hurt, arrested, or in some other type of trouble. The victim will then be asked to wire money over quickly to get the grandchild out of a jam. Scammers will typically request your secrecy and the need for urgency. Never let anyone rush you in these situations. Ask probing questions that only your grandchild would know to throw off the scammers. If in doubt, just hang up. The FTC has more information about this type of scam and how to be on the lookout for them. 

Fake-Check Scam: Essentially, someone will send you a check with an amount that exceeds what they owe you and will then say it was an accident. They will then ask you to wire the excess funds back to them. After you’ve sent the money, you’ll find out the original check was fake. Fake-check scammers will often use legitimate-looking checks, so it can be hard to identify the fraud just by looking at it. The best tip to avoid this trap is anytime you receive a check and are being asked to send money back, you’re being scammed. Bottom line: Never send money back to someone that sent you a check! 

Medicare Scams: Recently, Medicare changed card numbers from your Social Security number to a randomly assigned number. Scammers have attempted to thwart this block by asking for your card number for activation purposes or by saying that your card doesn’t work and that if you give them your personal information, they will issue you a new one. These scams most often occur around the open enrollment period but can happen any time of the year. Visit the official Medicare site for more information on your plan and how to avoid being scammed. 

A few quick tips: 

  • Medicare will never contact you for your Medicare number or other personal information unless you’ve given them permission in advance. 
  • Medicare will never call to sell you anything. 
  • Medicare will never visit you at your home. 
  • Medicare can’t enroll you over the phone unless you called first. 

Charity Scams: These scammers play on the human emotions that push us to help out those less fortunate than ourselves. When asked to donate to a charitable organization, many of us are willing to help. Scammers know this and will often pose as a charity, collect their money and pocket it. These scams are especially prevalent after large-scale tragedies such as fires, hurricanes, or mass casualty events. The best way to determine a charity’s authenticity is to do research. Visit the Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator to see if there is any information in their databases about the particular charity. If you can’t find any information, it’s best to avoid donating. 

Tech-Support Scams: Counting on the notion that seniors may be less familiar with technology, these scammers will make them think there is a virus or something wrong with their computer, phone or other technology by way of a phone call, pop-up warning or an online ad for a fake technology company. They then offer to remedy the problem by requesting a money wire to fix the problem. Remember, real tech companies won’t call you when there’s a problem with your device. If you get a pop-up instructing you to call a phone number, don’t do it. Stop what you’re doing, don’t click on anything, and call a trusted company for help. 

Despite all the warnings and tips on avoiding scams, they still happen. If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam, immediately quit all communication with the scammer. Try to recover as much information about the scammer as you can, including emails, text messages, and voicemails, and report it to the Federal Trade Commission. If the scammer has gotten hold of your Social Security number, report it to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and the Social Security Administration

It’s heartbreaking to realize you or your loved one has been scammed and financially or reputationally harmed. But by knowing what to look for and how to safeguard all online accounts, hopefully, that day will never come.