Social (In)Security: Five Tips to Protect Yourself from Fraud

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. 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.

Unfortunately, new scams tied to COVID-19 have been popping up over the course of the year as well. According to the FCC, These scammers target older adults due to possible health or financial concerns. These scams can include fake insurance calls, bogus calls or texts about COVID-19 tests and cures, and robocalls about COVID- health and financial concerns.

What can you do to protect yourself? Here are five tips that will serve any senior well:

  1. 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.
  2. Be suspicious. Don’t take anyone’s word for anything, unless it is a company, service or provider with whom you initiated contact.
  3. 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. If you want to donate to a certain charity, seek out their website yourself instead of sending money through a link provided to you.
  4. Never give out personal information over the phone or on a computer. Instead, call the “insurance agent,” “technician,” or “credit card company” back on a number you know to be legit, and get confirmation that the request is authentic.
  5. Be wary of strange website links. Do not click on website links sent in suspicious text, email, or social media messages. If someone you know sends you a strange or odd message with a website link, it is a sign that they were hacked. Clicking on these links can download malware on your computer that could steal your personal information. If you receive a message like this, call your friend and check to see if they were hacked and delete the message.

Fraud and scams are scary and daunting to deal with. However, staying aware and wary when receiving messages from unknown callers or suspicious requests can keep you proactively on top of a potential fraud situation. To report most types of fraud, including identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357. To learn more about COVID-19 scams, read more here. Find other ways to report fraud here.

Click here to learn helpful ways to reduce stress for older adults.

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