Scams Targeting Seniors – What To Know And How To Protect Yourself (And Your Loved Ones)

elderly woman in light pink shirt holding a phone and looking at a card

CNBC recently reported that older Americans lose at least $36.5 billion every year on fraud. While anyone can be a victim, there are a growing number of scams targeting seniors, including identity theft.

In honor of Grandparent's Day, here's a guide to three of the most common scams aimed at senior citizens:

Phone scams that push for paying or sending money immediately

They may be offering the deal of a lifetime, but you should should think twice before sharing your information. Calls can range from fake car warranty companies offering a deal on an extended warranty to someone pretending to be from the IRS and needing to collect a tax debt immediately. Anabel Marquez of the IRS previously joined us on an Experian podcast and confirmed that the IRS never calls taxpayers to demand immediate payment. Recently there was even a settlement against a marketing group and several popular cruise lines for making robocalls offering a free cruise to numbers they weren't authorized to call. Another awful phone scam that pulls on heartstrings is called the "grandparent scam" and involves a caller pretending to be a grandchild in trouble. They say something like they're worried their parents will be mad and they're in trouble, hurt, or had money stolen so they need money immediately wired. If a senior receives this call and thinks it is actually their grandchild, their judgement may be clouded even if other facts don't line up.

People knocking on doors pretending to be with a security system company or service provider

While there have been lots of advancements in technology, there are still old school methods such as stealing from mailboxes and people knocking on doors trying to catch people at home and hoping to charm them into providing information or giving them money. Additionally, thieves can dress like utility or company repairmen and try to lure their way into a house to steal valuables. So if you aren't expecting someone (and even if you are), check with any company to confirm when and who will be coming—and ask for identification if someone arrives at your door.

Phishing scams asking for money.

There are phishing scams that target everyone, but seniors can receive messages that try to mimic a loved ones email address and ask for money to be wired or sent via a link. That link can either lead to a site designed to steal money or may mean malware is installed on a computer. There can also be sweepstakes winnings promised via email or over the phone.

Resources for seniors to stay informed and protected

National Council on AgingProvides a top ten list of financial scams targeting seniors
AARP FoundationOffers resources to recognize and report fraud
Experian IdentityWorksProvides identity theft protection and specialist support to stay informed and alerted when there are changes to your credit report and if a new account is opened in your name
Better Business BureauIncludes tips, resources and a way to report scams

Steps to take if you think you may be an attempted target of a scam

  • Always ask for detailed information to contact any company that is trying to get you to "act now" of take immediate action—name, company, phone number, website, address.
  • In general, if something seems too good to be true it probably is. It's okay to be wary of anyone offering "easy money" and allow yourself additional time to research if something is legitimate. While many companies offer promotions, they are usually over a set amount of time, not just offered for one day only.
  • Hang up the phone anytime if you're uncomfortable with the line of questions or information being requested of you. You may be worried about being rude, but keeping your personal information safe is way too important to risk over concern for good manners.
  • Don't provide any account numbers or personal information to an incoming caller. Professional scammers can even now hack caller IDs to look like numbers similar to yours or others in your area. Collect the details and then contact any company via the number on their main website or from any confirmed statements or invoices you've received. If someone is pressuring you to give them money immediately to handle something, it's a red flag.
  • Call the police or talk with someone you trust about anything you think seems suspicious. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help. It's always better to be safe than sorry and chances are you could help others by making them aware of a scam. A 2017 survey of state securities regulators by the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) indicated that 97% of regulators feel that most cases of senior financial fraud go undetected rather than being discovered before they cause serious problems. According to the Better Business Bureau, this can be due to embarrassment or not wanting to seem like they are no longer independent.

Scams can happen to consumers of all ages, but learning potential red flags can help seniors stay on top of protecting their information and keep from falling victim to identity thieves.

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