Retirement Planning, Elder Law, and Senior Finance

8/10/2021 | By Annie Tobey

The voicemail on Katharine Ross’ phone warned, “Department is pursuing the case file. Call the department at 469-405-8495. Failure to call will result in serious legal consequences and suspension of your Social Security number.” Our Social Security accounts are essential to us as Americans – and especially to those who are receiving benefits. But if Ross had called the number, she would have connected with a scam call center that would have tried to bilk her out of her hard-earned money. Scammers cast a wide net, but they prey especially heavily on seniors. This government imposters scam is one of seven common senior scams.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), “Confidence fraud schemes accounted for the highest losses reported by the elderly in 2020 with more than $280 million in complaints.” From January 2020 to June 2021, the IC3 received over 650 reports of potential grandparent scams, one of the most common senior scams. These scams resulted in losses of more than $13 million.

Seven common senior scams targeting the elderly are:

1. Government imposters

By identifying themselves as from the Social Security Administration or Medicare, scammers connect themselves to an essential part of a senior’s life and well-being. To avoid losing benefits – supposedly – scared seniors may do whatever they’re asked. By feigning to be with the FBI or DEA, fraudsters convince victims that they’re in trouble – even if they’re innocent.

2. The grandparent scam

A shyster pretends to be someone’s grandchild and asks for money to solve a dire financial problem … “and please don’t tell anyone, Grandma!” The scammer might know family names from social media, or he might go fishing for a name. In new twists on this scam, the FBI reports that criminals are posing as other family members or as representatives, such as attorneys or bail-bondsmen. They’re also sending couriers to homes to pick up cash payment. This twist resulted in victim losses of more than $3.6 million over 18 months.

3. Sweepstakes, cruises, and payout promises

After being told that they’ve won a prize, victims are told to make a payment for “fees” and “taxes.” Or victims may be sent a sweepstakes check to deposit – but before the check bounces, the victim is to send money for fees/taxes. Goodbye, money.

4. Romance scams

Using fake profiles on social media sites or online dating services, scammers woo a lonely senior. After they’ve established a faux relationship, they ask for financial help. Heartbreaking – and bank account breaking.

Related: Technology scams on the rise – for all ages

5. Charity scams

Charity scams are among the most common senior scams. Appealing to a person’s most cherished values, these fraudulent “charities” request money. But it only goes to the scammers’ favorite charity – themselves. Better to stick to known and trusted nonprofits.

6. Overdue utilities

You receive warning that payment is overdue and your service is about to be terminated – immediately! Rest assured – utility companies will give advance warning, in writing. Use contact resources from a utility bill (not from a caller or email) to determine if the warnings are legit.

7. Tech support scams

A pop-up message or an incoming call or email claims you have an urgent computer problem or virus. This trick plays on the naivete that many seniors have about technology. After they click on the link provided in the pop-up or call a fake tech support number … then there really is a problem!

Katharine Ross knew that scams were plentiful. Instead of calling the phone number as requested, she Googled it and found out it’s identified with a scam. She also visited the Social Security website, where she found valid contact resources.

Scammers play a numbers game – someone they contacted the same day they reached out to Ross probably fell for their ploy. You or your senior loved ones should know the common senior scams, the added vulnerability of seniors, and the tips for staying safe. Don’t become a victim!

To report a scam or other fraud, contact:

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey