Elderly fraud scams can be the same scams used on anyone else, but some criminals specifically target seniors and design scams that are more likely to work on elderly people. Knowledge is power, so spotting suspicious interactions or transactions is the key to protecting seniors online. To avoid becoming victim to scams, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of one. Make sure you and your senior loved ones are all aware of some of these common internet scams:
- Grandparent Scam
When scamming the elderly online, many criminals try to prey on their emotions. In the grandparent scam, the criminals pretend to be a grandchild in danger. The so-called grandchild sends an email to the older adult claiming to be in dire trouble — either in the hospital or in jail — and in need of money to get out or cover fees. Once they receive the money, the criminal may continue to reach out for more money.
The scammer will also typically insist the grandparent keep the communication a secret, which makes it harder to spot and stop this scam. The best practice is too reach out to family and verify the claim. For example, if your “grandchild” emails you, before doing anything, give them a call and speak to them directly to verify if they are or aren’t okay.
A good way to recognize this scam is if the scammer asks for gift cards instead of money or credit card information. Gift cards are easy to obtain and a lot harder to track, especially compared to credit cards, so some scammers think they will be less likely to be caught if they ask for gift cards. But common sense should alert you that anyone in legitimate danger won’t be reaching out to loved ones, asking for gift cards to shopping malls.
- Tech Support Scam
Many seniors may be new to dealing with technology, making them an easy target for some scammers. In a tech scam, criminals contact seniors offering a free virus check on their computers. The contact may be via email with a hyperlink attachment, which will give the criminal access to the senior’s computer and all the personal information within. Alternately, the scam may target seniors via pop-ups that claim the user’s computer is infected with a virus and needs to be cleaned.
Fear-mongering makes scams like this even more successful since seniors are led to believe they are helping themselves. A good point to remember is that users will always be the one to approach tech support — never the other way around.
- Sweetheart Scam
As older adults turn to online dating, the sweetheart scam becomes more prominent. This scam — which is often the result of a catfishing scheme — preys on a senior’s loneliness. Criminals pretend to be a suitor who has fallen in love with the senior and manipulates the senior into sending money. They convince the senior they’re madly in love with them and use the senior’s feelings to steal from them. The so-called relationship can continue for years, with the criminal cleaning out a senior’s savings.
Though this scam isn’t limited to just seniors, they may be seen as an easier target since online dating is new territory for many seniors, and they likely haven’t been educated on its potential dangers. Loneliness is also an easy-to-manipulate emotion, so keeping up to date on your senior loved one’s life may help nip these types of scams in the bud.
- Lottery or Sweepstakes Scam
One of the most common scams is the lottery scam, in which a senior receives an email stating they have won millions of dollars. They are asked to pay an administrative fee in order to collect their winnings. Once the fee is paid, a phony check is sent to the senior, and by the time the bank figures out the check is a fake, the scammer is long gone.
This is an easy scam to fall for considering how many times people enter raffles or sweepstakes and forget about it. However, if the email claims you have won a foreign lottery, it’s likely fake. Scams like these are a great reminder that, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Fake Charities
Another way to tug at the heartstrings and take advantage of elderly people’s kindness and generosity is through fake charity scams. Fake charities ask for donations for a cause, but the money doesn’t go to help anyone but the criminal. These scams tend to pop up more after a tragic event, like a natural disaster. These scams ask seniors to donate money to a seemingly charitable cause. Once they have access to the bank or credit card information, they help themselves to the bulk of it.
There are so many charities in the world all aiming to help the less fortunate that it can seem cruel to doubt them, but donations for a cause should actually go to the cause, not to a greedy scammer. To avoid these scams, research the charity before agreeing to donate any money. Legitimate charities will have websites and contact information that can easily be linked back to the organization. Contact the charity by telephone to confirm whether they are sending email solicitations or not.
- Bank or IRS Scams
It can be terrifying to find out you may owe money to the government or to learn your bank account has been compromised. Some scammers prey on this fear to obtain sensitive, personal information from seniors, such as their social security numbers.
These scammers will send out an email or a text with a hyperlink, asking you to visit the link. Clicking on the link allows the scammer access to your computer, and, thus, all your banking and personal information, which can lead to identity theft. If not a link, there may be an attachment that comes with the email that will have the same outcome. Keeping your social security number safe is extremely important, as it can be used to steal your identity, which can be a nightmare to sort out, especially if you don’t notice it straight away.
Banks and the IRS will never ask you to verify your information via email or text. If you get an email from your bank or the IRS, delete it and call them directly to confirm.
How to Protect Seniors From Scams
Protecting the elderly from financial abuse is a problem being targeted by organizations like AARP, and more and more government bodies are recognizing the need for laws to protect seniors from fraud. Despite this progress, there is still a long way to go to stop senior citizen scams — but there are still steps you can take to help protect your loved ones.
Protecting seniors from internet scams may seem like a task too big to take on, but being proactive and well educated on the threat will help you stay alert while also reducing fear and panic. To protect your elderly loved ones from scams:
Protecting the elderly from financial abuse can be scary, but remember that banks are willing to work with their clients to keep them safe. Approach the bank directly and ask for monthly statements or bills to be sent to a trusted individual who doesn’t have access to the account. That person can objectively keep an eye on the account and quickly report any suspicious activity.
Or, you can even open a small bank account that your senior loved one can use daily, keeping the bulk of their money safe in a separate, more secure account.
Keep in Touch
Touch base with your elderly loved one in person or by phone regularly. Learn what’s going on in their lives. This way, you’ll help alleviate any loneliness they may be feeling and be able to better notice if they start acting differently.
Keeping in touch will allow you to get an idea of their friends and activities, so if your loved one suddenly starts talking excessively about a new friend or love interest, you can be on the alert just in case. Regular communication also develops a relationship in which both you and your loved one will feel comfortable to share thoughts and feelings, which will allow your loved one to more easily express any concerns they may have about new friends or caregivers.
The best way to protect seniors online is to know about the potential dangers and the signs of a victim of fraud. There are many resources available to inform you and your senior loved one about internet scams and how to best protect yourself, so it’s wise to take advantage of them. Also, find out how and where to report financial abuse of the elderly.
Be sure to keep up to date and aware of scams in the area, especially those that target seniors, and learn the signs senior financial scams. If your senior loved one seems to be pulling away and avoiding you or seems reluctant to have contact with others, these could be signs that the senior is being manipulated.
It’s best to encourage your senior loved one to research charities they may consider donating to. Since fraud against seniors is so common, it’s important your loved one knows the tell-tale signs.
Hire a Respite Worker
If you are currently the primary caregiver for your elderly loved one, it may be difficult to spot the signs of a scam if you are under the stress of caring for both your household and theirs. Give yourself some rest with the support of a respite caregiver who can alleviate some of these pressures and can keep an eye on your loved one’s online activities.
Respite workers are also great for spending time with your senior loved one and helping them with everyday care, such as fall prevention and special needs care. They can also provide a fresh set of eyes and potentially spot any suspicious changes in your loved one.