Sadly, seniors are especially vulnerable to fraud. While fraud affects over 25 million people per year if you are older than 60, you are at an increased risk of being a target. Fraud comes in many forms. Some con artists sell fake products and services by email or telephone. With election season right around the corner, electoral fraud is another potential threat. Posing as political volunteers, they try to lure voters into donating money by asking for cash or a credit card number. They may even offer to register you over the phone if you provide your social security number (which is not a legal method of registration in any state).
The adage that “it seems too good to be true – it is” is particularly appropriate when it comes to seniors. Below are some examples of how fraud is perpetrated on older citizens. Beware.
Theft by email
Many of us have received emails where we don’t recognize the sender. If that is the case, it could be a scam. Even internet-savvy seniors can fall prey to phishing schemes. These are the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.
An example might be that you receive an email that your bank suspects that someone has hacked into your account and they ask you to reset you password through a link. In another case you may be told your Facebook account is being deleted. The best rule is to “not click until you check”. Immediately call the company or group that is supposedly sending the email and confirm that it is legitimate. Never send confidential information via email.
Legitimate survey research is done by phone all the time. There is nothing wrong about answering legitimate surveys. Where you must stop, however, is when you are asked for personal information in order to participate. Then alarm bells should go off. Legitimate surveys by bona fide research companies never ask for personal information involving your private accounts. If you are asked for this type of information from a polling or survey company, you should immediately hang up. You may want to add your name to the “Do Not Call” list.
“I’m from the Government…”
Con artists posturing as agents from IRS, Social Security Administration or Medicare frequently target seniors. They send bogus emails or make phony phone calls, telling potential victims they owe back taxes or are due a refund. Then they request personal information in order to “resolve the issue”. Legitimate government agencies will never ask for that sensitive information over the phone or via email so don’t fall for it.
Occasionally fraudsters will pretend to be calling on behalf of a relative that has an urgent need. The story is that this person has been in an accident or been robbed and needs money right away. If you receive a call like this, you should never respond without confirming what is said is true. If you attempt to delay giving them private information to help your supposed relative, they might even go so far as to tell you that you have to keep this confidential for some equally bogus reason. This is another trick to get you to act first and confirm later. Don’t fall for it. Any legitimate emergency can wait a few minutes to give you time to be sure it is not a scam.
Unfortunately, there will always be disreputable people looking to take advantage. Many of them think that seniors are easy prey because they are most likely to have a “nest egg,” that can be plucked. And, seniors generally come from a “polite” generation where questioning someone’s veracity is considered rude.
Unfortunately, once a senior is scammed, he or she often does not report the crime due to the embarrassment of being the victim of fraud. This perpetuates the cycle and makes them even more attractive to con artists.
If you are targeted, you should never be too embarrassed or ashamed to report it. The only way to reduce fraud against seniors is to report a problem when we know it and hopefully shield another potential victim as a result.