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Seniors are an easy target for scammers because they are often polite, trusting and financially secure. Consequently, seniors lose more than $3 billion annually due to fraud, according to the FBI. You can help protect your elderly loved ones from scam callers by educating them about scams, ensuring they have access to caller ID and showing them how to block unwanted calls.
Dangers Scam Callers Pose to the Elderly
Here are some methods fraudsters commonly use to prey on the elderly:
- Grandparent scam: The fraudster poses as a close relative—usually a granddaughter or grandson—and makes a desperate plea for immediate financial help. It's not unusual for the thief to call in the middle of the night and request that your loved one send money right away through a wiring service such as MoneyGram or Western Union.
- Lottery or sweepstakes scam: The fraudster convinces your loved one that they've won a foreign lottery or sweepstake but can only collect their prize if they pay a fee. The FTC estimates that individuals ages 55 to 64 are twice as likely to be victimized by a prize promotion scheme as other Americans.
- Romance scam: The scammer locates elderly targets seeking companionship on dating websites or social media platforms, establishes a relationship and begins to swindle money. In 2020, romance scams accounted for the most significant source of fraud reported to the FTC among those ages 60 to 79. The average losses reported were $6,000 for individuals ages 60 to 69 and $9,000 for individuals 70 and over.
- Tech support scam: The scammer calls and offers tech support assistance for problems that don't exist. They then hack the victim's computer and other electronic devices to access personal and financial data.
How to Stop Spam Calls
These measures can help stop unwanted calls and minimize the occurrence of fraud:
1. Educate Your Elderly Loved Ones About Scams
Your older relatives may be in the dark about phone scams, but you can educate them on scammers' methods. Unsolicited phone calls where the caller is very pushy or requesting personal information should be ended promptly. This is a red flag that could indicate fraud.
2. Ensure Your Loved One Has Access to Caller ID
If your elderly relative has a phone that's not equipped with caller ID, swap it out for one that is. Then encourage your relative not to answer calls from phone numbers they don't recognize.
3. Block Calls From Everyone Except Relatives
Consider using a call blocking app to restrict unwanted calls on your loved one's cellphone. You can review a list of reputable options by brand (such as Android, Apple or Windows) at CTIA.org or through the Federal Communications Commission. You can also register their home or cellphone number with the National Do Not Call Registry.
4. Take Action to Prevent Future Calls From a Scammer
File an online report with the FTC to notify them about the fraudulent call your elderly relative received. The information from the report will be shared with law enforcement so it can potentially aid in investigations to bring cases against phone scammers.
What to Do if Your Loved One Is Victimized by a Scam Caller
In the event that your relative is victimized by a scam caller, notify their financial institutions immediately. The FBI also recommends that you file a report using the electronic tip form or with the field office in your local area.
Be sure to include this information with your report:
- The name the scammer used when contacting you, as well as the company they said they were with
- Phone numbers, email addresses and any other contact information the scammer used
- The method of contact
- The date(s) when the scammer contacted your relative
- How your loved one made payment and where funds were sent
- A description of how the fraud was perpetrated and any other relevant details
If the scammer has your loved one's Social Security number, encourage your relative to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on their credit file. This will prevent the fraudster from opening new accounts in your relative's name.
You can also help them access their free Experian credit report and score to keep tabs on the activity in their credit report and even place a credit freeze on their report to thwart future attempts by scammers. Identity theft protection from Experian can alert them to any suspicious activity appearing on their credit reports and help protect their personal information.