Thousands of fraudulent transactions take place each year in the United States, most of which target older Americans. Seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year to scammers, according to a Senate committee report released this past January. In fact, one in 10 Americans age 65 or older who lives at home will become a victim of a financial scam.
Why target seniors? According to the FBI:
- Criminals tend to see seniors as naïve and easily confused, especially when it comes to money.
- Americans raised in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s – when a man’s word was his bond – tend to be more trusting.
- Seniors often have investments and excellent credit, making them a desirable target.
- Con artists count on the fact that seniors are often too embarrassed or frightened to report the crime.
- And finally, even if they do report the crime, crooks count on seniors making bad witnesses.
Phone scams are the most common type of fraudulent activity aimed at seniors and often involve fake contacts from the IRS, Medicare, or Social Security. Then there is the infamous “grandparent” scam, wherein a late-night caller pretending to be your grandchild asks you to immediately wire money to get him or her out of a jam.
Fraudsters also haunt the internet. Often, their schemes involve phony online sales offers, or an attempt to trick their targets into downloading fake anti-virus software that allows the scammers to access personal information. And beware of “phishing” emails sent by scammers asking you to update your financial information on a phony website.
And then there are the bad guys who come right through your door. A home burglary happens every 13 seconds in the U.S., most often between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., with an average loss of over $2,000.
What can you do to protect yourself? Here are six tips that will serve any senior well:
- If you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer your phone. (And if you do recognize the number, be aware that scammers can “spoof” – or replicate – legitimate phone numbers, including the one for the Social Security Administration!) Remember, if it is a real caller, they will leave a message – which you should verify before calling back.
- Be suspicious. Don’t take anyone’s word for anything, unless it is a company, service or provider with whom you initiated contact.
- Never respond to pressure to send money. Any reputable charity, service or organization will give you time to think about their offer. Be especially wary of demands to wire money, purchase gift cards, or send cash through the mail.
- Never give out personal information over the phone or on a computer. Instead, call the “investigator,” “technician,” or “credit card company” back on a number you know to be legit, and get confirmation that the request is authentic.
- Never admit that you live alone. This is especially important for single women. If a caller asks to speak to the “man of the house,” just say he isn’t in.
- And finally, install a home safe. A properly installed and secured safe can protect your valuables in case of a break-in. Ideally, your safe will be large, heavy, and secured to your floor (burglars have been known to cut through drywall to remove wall safes). And of course, the safe – like your home’s windows and doors – should always be locked.
To report most types of fraud, including identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357. To report Medicare fraud, call the Medicare helpline at 800-633-4227. Find other ways to report fraud here.