The rate of fraud continues to rise in the United States, as does the level of sophistication used by scammers. However, knowing what to look for can be your best defense against becoming a victim. Protect yourself or a loved one from fraud by learning more about the common tactics used by scammers.
Common Types of Elder Fraud
A favorite amongst scammers, older adults are approached with an urgent request to purchase or reload an existing a gift card. The reasons for the request vary, but may include paying an overdue bill, other type of debt, to avoid losing insurance, or to claim a prize.
Scammers typically contact their victims by phone, or by sending a text or email. It is not uncommon for scammers to pose as a grandchild that asks for financial help in the form of gift cards. The AARP explains that gift cards are intended as gifts, not as a way to pay bills and fees, or to claim a larger prize.
Another frequent scam that targets older adults, robocalls have grown more sophisticated as technology has evolved. Common ploys range from warranty expirations (car or electronic equipment) to warnings from government agencies like the IRS and the Social Security Administration.
According to the National Council on Aging, another popular scam involves asking “Can you hear me?” The scammer then records the person saying yes, which can be used to authorize payments on credit cards that have been stolen.
“Spoofing” involves showing fake information on your caller ID, so it appears the call is coming from a trusted source. For instance, scammers trying to impersonate a government agency like the IRS or Social Security Administration, might use a 202 area code. Phone calls that appear to come from your local area is called neighborhood spoofing.
Hijacking Account Credentials
Food and grocery delivery services are a wonderful option for individuals who are either crunched for time, or cannot leave home due to an illness or lack of mobility. Unfortunately, the popularity of Instacart, Uber Eats, DoorDash and GrubHub has led to a new type of fraud. Tech-savvy thieves have been targeting and stealing the account credentials for non-financial accounts. Once they gain access to the account, thieves can order groceries, or have a lobster dinner delivered to their doorstep. More concerning, they may also be able to steal credit card or bank account information.
Fake Tech Support
This scam is particularly effective with older adults, who often lack computer knowledge. Scammers make contact either by phone or email, or through a pop-up window on the computer in question. The message typically states that a problem has been detected on the computer, with instructions to call a helpline for assistance.
Once contact has made, scammers will try a variety of schemes to gain access to your computer and/or credit card information. These may include asking to remote into your computer, which will enable them to access the information stored on that computer, as well as any computers it is networked to. Other tactics include enrolling you in a fake warranty program, or asking you to pay a one-time fee to resolve the imaginary issue on your computer.
Strategies to Protect Older Adults from Fraud
While the rate of fraud is on the rise, there are practical steps you can take to protect yourself, or a loved one, from becoming a victim.
Review Accounts Regularly
Get into the habit of checking your financial accounts regularly. If you notice any discrepancies or unauthorized charges, contact your financial institution immediately. If you are helping your parent or loved one with their bills, familiarize yourself with the types of transactions that occur normally, and speak up if you notice anything out of the ordinary.
Do Not Mail/Do Not Call
There are multiple ways you can block both mail and phone solicitations. The most well-known is the National Do Not Call Registry. You can register for free by either visiting donotcall.gov or calling 1-888-382-1222 from the number you want to register. Keep in mind that the Do Not Call Registry will only restrict sales calls – not political, charity or robocalls. You can read how to block robocalls on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.
You can remove yourself from direct mail lists by visiting the Direct Marketing Association’s website. You will need to create an account, but once registered you can add yourself, as well as a loved one to their do not mail list.
Look for clues that a piece of communication – be it a phone call, email, or text, is fake. Is the sender’s email address spelled correctly (i.e. email@example.com vs. firstname.lastname@example.org)? Similarly, do the links appear to be legitimate? Do you recognize the phone number -- is it in your address book? When in doubt, don’t click on links or attachments, and don’t answer the phone. If you are caring for an older adult, let them know what to look for, and ask them to check with you if they aren’t sure.
From opening a separate account that you use to make online purchases to setting up fraud alerts, there are several steps you can take at your bank to safeguard your accounts, or the accounts of an older loved one. Since each bank handles fraud protection differently, contact your bank’s customer service team to review what options are available.
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