5 Common Scams (and How to Avoid Them): A Quick Guide for Seniors

Read Time:7 Minute

Financial scams are on the rise, and seniors are the hardest hit. As a group, US residents aged 60+ suffer losses of $3 billion annually. With the digital boom, scammers’ reach has grown, and their tactics have become trickier but it’s possible to protect ourselves from fraud. Keep reading to learn about five common scams and how to spot them.

1. Romance Scams

Romance scams usually happen on dating apps, but scammers may also contact us on other social media platforms.

At $1.3 billion, romance scams have caused more financial loss than any other type of fraud in the past five years.

The main goal is to create a false sense of connection and intimacy. This is followed by requests for money; scammers take advantage of our empathy for financial gain.

How it Works

To build a relationship, romance scammers create a fake profile with other people’s pictures. They might gather info about us from social media. This way, they can pretend to share our interests.

Scammers make large claims early on, like “you’re my soulmate” or “you’re perfect,” etc. This is called love bombing.

Usually, to avoid meeting, scammers will claim to be out of the country (working on an oil rig, deployed for military duty, etc.). They’ll also avoid talking on the phone or through video chat.

Eventually, they’ll ask for money by giving excuses that play on our emotions. E.g.

  • Medical bills for a sick child
  • Airplane tickets to visit us
  • A loan for a business venture
  • To pay rent

What to Do

  • Stop talking to them.
  • Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile pictures. This will show where it originated.
  • Google their job title + scam and read others’ experiences.
  • Tell a loved one. Others can often spot red flags that we might miss because of our emotions.
  • Never send money.

If the Scam Has Already Happened

Romance scam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlxWxH0mgU8

2. Phishing

Phishing tries to trick us into providing sensitive details to scammers or downloading harmful programs to our devices.

How it Works

There are multiple methods used for phishing scams. One of the most common is email.

First, the scammer sends us a fake email. The email addresses are often nearly identical to the ones we know. The email, which appears to be from a legitimate source, will tell us to click the included link to change our password, update our credit card info, etc. Clicking the link will take us to a fake webpage that looks real. When we enter our information, scammers can use it to steal our identity.

Emails can also contain malware, programs that make our computers insecure. It’s commonly an attachment in the email.

When we open it, the malware downloads onto our device. This lets scammers look through our files, track our data, and get personal info to financially exploit us.

What to Do

  • Make sure computer and phone security software is updated
  • Confirm we have an account with the sender. If not, delete the email.
  • If we do have an account, call the real company/person to confirm they’ve sent the email before clicking the link.
  • Use multi-factor authentication. This requires two security measures to get into accounts, like a password and a pin number/fingerprint, etc. This makes it harder for scammers who already have their passwords to log in.
  • Back up important files in case device security are compromised. This means keeping a physical copy, storing them on an external hard drive or using cloud storage.

If the Scam Has Already Happened

Phishing scam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7zNlEMDmI4

3. Grandparent Scams

Grandparent scams are on the rise. Specifically targeted at older adults, scammers exploit our concern for loved ones.

How it Works

Usually, the scammer will call us, pretending to be our grandchild. They’ll fake an emergency, like being hospitalized, arrested, or stuck abroad.

To be more convincing, they often include real details about our family that they find on social media.

The scammer will ask us to send money immediately using a wire transfer, prepaid credit card, reloadable card, or gift card. These payment methods are harder to trace or reverse.

They’ll likely ask us to not tell anyone else, for fear of “getting in trouble.”

The scammer might call late at night, as we’re more likely to be groggy and vulnerable.

What to Do

  • Set social media to private, so only confirmed contacts can view it.
  • Stay calm, and don’t act hastily because of emotional pressure.
  • Hang up, and contact our grandchild directly to check on them.
  • If we can’t reach them, we should contact other family members/friends to investigate.
  • Don’t give the caller personal info. They’ll use it to build a believable story. Wait for them to confirm things like their identity, name, etc.

If the Scam Has Already Happened

Grandparent scam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEPdo_DvakY

4. Tech Support Scams

Tech support scammers try to convince us that there’s a problem with our computer or cellphone (e.g. a virus). To “fix” the non-existent issue, they ask us to pay.

How It Works

This scam can take place over the phone, or through pop-up notifications and internet ads. Often, scammers claim to be from legitimate companies, like Microsoft; pop-ups and ads will have the company’s logo.

They’ll also include a phone number we can call for help. When we do, the scammer will ask us to download a program that lets them access our device. This gives them complete control of our desktop.

From here, they create suspicious-looking data and try to convince us that harmless files are malicious. Scammers might even block access to our screen. This gives them time to search our computer for sensitive info, like stored passwords.

What to Do

  • Be aware that true pop-up error messages never contain phone numbers.
  • Legitimate companies won’t contact us if we have a tech issue. We must contact them.
  • If there is a tech issue, visit a reputable store or website that offers tech support, or ask a trusted person for help.

If the Scam Has Already Happened

  • Change important passwords.
  • Uninstall any software the scammer asked us to use.
  • Run a security scan.
  • Reset the device.
  • Immediately contact any payment companies involved and explain the situation.

Tech support scam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nSP_cnipTY

5. Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams

People aged 60+ report lottery scams three times more than other groups, with approx. $51 million dollars annually.

How it Works

Lottery and sweepstakes scams exploit our desire for financial security/freedom. Scammers reach out by phone, email, mail, or social media. They tell us we’ve won a large prize.

To claim it, we need to pay taxes, customs, etc. Then, like the other scams, they ask us to provide payment.

Once we pay, they disappear or keep asking for “just one more payment” to release our winnings.

What to Do

  • Make sure we entered the contest. We can’t win something we didn’t enter.
  • Be wary of rushed deadlines to claim. Real contests will give a reasonable timeframe.
  • Look out for area codes 876, 809 or 284 (Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the British Virgin Islands), common centers of contest scams.
  • When entering contests, make sure they’re legitimate.
  • Don’t send money, either to claim a prize or increase your chances of winning.
  • Don’t share financial info.

If the Scam Has Already Happened

Lottery and sweepstakes scams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9z1JCDBOUM

Summary

No doubt, scammers are savvy. They have a growing list of ways to trick us.

When the internet or smartphones are involved, we may be even more vulnerable if we’re unfamiliar with the digital environment.

But we’re not destined to be duped.

When we’re educated about common scams, we can keep ourselves safe.

Sources:

https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/grandparent.html

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/data-visualizations/data-spotlight/2022/02/reports-romance-scams-hit-record-highs-2021

https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-spot-avoid-report-tech-support-scams

https://terranovasecurity.com/top-examples-of-phishing-emails/

https://www.comparitech.com/identity-theft-protection/senior-scam-statistics/

https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/sweepstakes.html

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/finance/elderly-financial-scam-statistics.html

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