The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging has announced the top 10 scams currently targeting our nation’s seniors. The list is as follows:
- The IRS Impersonation scam
- Sweepstakes Scams
- Robocalls / Unwanted phone calls
- Computer Tech Support Schemes
- Identity Theft
- Grandparent Scams
- Elder Financial Abuse
- Grant Schemes
- Romance Scams
- Home Improvement Scams
Senior citizens are often targeted for telephone and internet scams because seniors are more trusting, more likely to have good credit, and more likely to have savings than younger age groups. People over the age of 50 control 70% of the nation’s wealth. That alone makes us prime targets. Some senior citizens lack financial sophistication and/or haven’t kept up with the information age. Many people fail to report being the victim of a scam because they are too embarrassed and/or they don’t know where to report the crime.
As seniors, we need to be alert for scammers and aware of the most prevalent frauds currently out there. This is not an exclusive list; there are other scams not included in the list. These 10 are simply the ones most reported in recent months.
1. The IRS Impersonation Scam.
In this telephone scam, the con artist pretends to be an IRS agent. The fake agent claims you owe back taxes to the IRS and threatens arrest, lawsuits, confiscation of property and other dire consequences unless you promptly pay the fake taxes. The scammer may offer you a chance to pay by credit card over the phone. He may give you a fake mailing address or internet address.
The IRS says this is the biggest IRS fraud it has ever seen. Thus far, unwary citizens have paid over $ 6 Million Dollars in phony taxes. The IRS will never telephone you to inform you of back taxes. This type of notification is always done in writing.
2. Sweepstakes Scams
There are a variety of sweepstakes scams, but all of them have one thing in common. The “winner” must send in money before he or she can collect the prize. Another variation on the fraud requires the winner to provide checking account information so the prize can be deposited directly into the winner’s checking account. Always remember – if it sounds too good to be true, it’s likely to be a fraud.
We all receive these unwanted telephone calls. It may be a caller wanting to sell you something. Those are far too common. The more sinister calls are those where the caller is “phishing” for your information. The call may start out with a statement like: “There is a problem with your current credit card!” The caller then asks for your account number to “verify” your information. Be Wary! If your credit card company calls you because it identified an unusual spending pattern or some other real issue, the caller will already know your account information. He will not be asking you to provide it. Do not give credit card information over the telephone unless you initiate the call and know who you are dealing with.
4. Computer Tech Support Schemes
In this scam, the caller tells you there is a problem with your computer. He may ask you to give him remote access. The goal here is to access your computer and steal your personal information. Any call that comes out of the blue alleging computer problems is almost certainly a scam.
5. Identity Theft
Identity theft is a huge problem in our modern world. Thieves sift through trash and steal mail from mailboxes. They skim credit card information on public networks, at gas stations and stores – all to access your personal information and steal your money. If you notice withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain; if you are not receiving your bills or expected checks in the mail; if unexplained charges appear on your credit card statement; or if the IRS notifies you that more than one tax return has been filed in your name, these are signs your identity may have been stolen. If you suspect identity theft, take immediate steps. Notify your bank and your credit card companies immediately. Consider placing a freeze on your credit. Contact the Federal Trade Commission or go on the FTC website to learn how to protect yourself and recover from identity theft. You do have rights in the event your identity is stolen, and you need to learn what they are.
6. Grandparent Scams
The scammer calls pretending to be a grandchild or great grandchild. The scammer may say something like: “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the senior guesses the identity of a grandchild, the scammer is ready to go. The scammer may sometimes call, armed with information obtained from social media, which can tell him the grandchild’s name and location. Once the scammer convinces you the call is truly from a grandchild or great grandchild, then, he or she will ask for money.
7. Elder Financial Abuse
Elder Financial abuse includes such things as: taking money or property, forging the elder person’s signature; or using the older person’s possessions without permission. It can also include scams that trick the elderly into buying fraudulent insurance policies or worthless goods and services. Perpetrators of elder financial abuse may be family members or caregivers. They may also be con artists or unscrupulous business persons.
Advances in technology have made managing finances more complicated. Older seniors spent their working lives writing checks to pay for expenses, inspecting a monthly bank statement that came by mail, and using that bank statement to balance their checkbooks. The advent of credit cards, debit cards, electronic transfers and other innovations of the computer age may be poorly understood by older seniors. That makes them attractive targets for elder financial abuse. You can learn more about Elder Financial Abuse and how to prevent it by contacting the National Center on Aging (NCEA) for informational materials on the subject.
8. Grant Schemes
This scam can be in the form of an advertisement or a telephone call. “Because you pay your income taxes on time, you have been awarded a free . . .” government grant of some type. In order to collect the grant, you must provide your checking account information so the money can be deposited directly into your account. Of course, the scammer then uses that account information to clean out your bank account. The scammer often uses an official sounding name like “Federal Grants Administration.” No such agency exists.
9. Romance Scams
Romance scams or sweetheart scams are all too common and can be both emotionally and financially devastating. Most of the romance scams we hear about today originate on dating websites or social media. Scammers typically create fake online profiles to lure you in. They often take the identities of real people such as military personnel and people working in foreign countries. They will often go to great lengths to win your trust. Sometimes scammers will spend months building an online relationship, showering you with loving words and even gifts. Eventually, the trap is sprung. The trap can take many forms. The scammer may suddenly have a financial emergency and need you to wire money. He or she has been mugged and needs money right to replace his money and passport. A relative may be ill and needs an expensive operation. The scammer tells you that he wants to visit you, but he needs you to wire the money for the ticket. Those things may cost you money and heartache, but there are even worse romance scams out there, scams that can make you liable for criminal prosecution.
The scammer may ask you to open a new bank account, and allow him to deposit money into that account. He will tell you he has gold or cash that he needs to get out of the country. He may even offer you a share. The scammer will then ask you to send the money in the account to someone else. THIS IS ALMOST CERTAINLY MONEY LAUNDERING. The scammer may send you items like laptops or mobile phones and ask you to send them on to someone else. This can be money laundering or even terrorism. Doing what he asks can make you a criminal!
Be very careful with internet romances. Think carefully before you commit to an online relationship. There are warning signs you should look for. Does the internet profile match what the person has told you about himself? For instance, does the person profess to have a college degree, but have poor English language skills? Does the person profess strong feelings for you after just a few contacts and ask to chat with you privately off the website? Does he or she always have an excuse for not traveling to see you.
10. Home improvement scams
These scams may start on the telephone or the scammer may come to your door. They will offer to repair your roof, paint your house, or do some other household repair. The scammer then does a slapdash job with shoddy materials. Sometimes, he will ask for advance payment for materials he need to purchase, but he never returns to actually do the work. The scammer may ask you to pay by credit card and then steal your card information. Always check out potential contractors or repairmen with the State Board of Contractors and the Better Business Bureau.
These are just the highlights on a few of the many scams and frauds that are prevalent in our country today. Be alert. Be suspicious of telephone calls from people you don’t know. Never divulge financial information over the telephone.
Collins, Senator Susan, and Senator Claire McCaskill. "Senate Aging Committee Announces Top 10 Frauds TargetingOur Nation's Seniors." United States Senate Special Committee on Aging. , 12 Feb. 2016. http://www.aging.senate.gov/press-releases/senate-aging-committee-announces-top-10- frauds_targeting-our-nations-seniors. Accessed. 23 Aug. 2016.
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Ribeiro, Ana Gonzales. "Senior Scams: 8 Scams That Target Senior Citizens." Bankrate.com, 9 Mar. 2016. http://www.bankrate.com/finance/retirement/fraud-5-scams-aimed-at-the-elderly-1.aspx. Accessed 24. Aug. 2016.
"Dating & Romance." Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. July 2015. https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/types-of-scams/dating-romance. Accessed 15 Aug. 2016.
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“Government Grant Scams” Federal Trade Commission. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0113-government-grant-scams. Accessed 15 Aug. 2016.