Sidestepping Senior Scams

Senior citizens are targeted more frequently by financial fraudsters and scam artists than any other age group. This happens for a number of reasons. Seniors are most likely to have a substantial nest egg, own their home, and have excellent credit. Seniors are less likely to report a fraud, either because they don't know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don't know they have been victimized. 

One of the biggest reasons seniors fall prey is that they are less likely to be aware of the latest scams making the rounds. Awareness is always the best defense. What can you do to make sure you--or someone you love--aren't bilked by a scammer?

Tips to Avoid Computer Scams

Scams involving fake antivirus programs, email phishing scams and other attempts to dupe seniors out of personal information are on the rise. IRS debt scams increased 400 percent this year alone. 

  • Don’t open or respond to emails from people you don’t know.
  • Never send bank account or credit card information by email.
  • If you get a pop-up message saying your computer has been infected with a virus don’t click on it. Shut the computer down instead.
  • Delete email messages that ask you to verify your bank account number or debit card PIN. By clicking on the link or replying to the email with your account number, you are giving a scammer access to your financial accounts. 

Tips to Avoid Door-to-Door Scams

  • Don't offer unknown visitors access to your home and never provide answers to personal questions.
  • Don’t be rushed into having work done.
  • Ask to see proof of insurance. State law requires all home improvement companies to have this.
  • Get all estimates in writing.

Tips to Avoid Mail Scams

  • Keep in mind that government departments will never ask you to pay upfront to claim a fee or rebate.
  • Research charities before donating.
  • Steer clear of companies that operate contests or sweepstakes that demand payment upfront.

Tips to Avoid Lottery/Sweepstake Scams

Not all lotteries and sweepstakes are legitimate. Before you participate, keep these tips in mind:

  • Scam artists often use the promise of a valuable prize or award to entice consumers to send money, buy overpriced products or services, or contribute to bogus charities.
  • Legitimate sweepstakes don't require you to pay to collect your winnings.
  • Scam operators use the telephone and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in foreign lotteries. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.

Tips to Avoid Phone Scams

In telemarketing fraud, phone scammers will often use exaggerated—or even fake—prizes, products, and services as bait. Some may call you, but others will use mail, text, or ads to get you to call them for more details. Types of phone scams include:

  • Travel packages. "Free" or "low-cost" vacations can end up costing a fortune in hidden costs. 
  • Credit and loans. Popular schemes include advance fee loans, payday loans, and credit card loss protection. 
  • Fake business and investment opportunities. Business and investing can be complicated. Scammers take advantage of people who don't adequately research investment opportunities. 
  • Charitable causes. Many phone scams involve urgent requests for donations to relief funds set up to benefit the victims of natural and other disasters.
  • Never send money to a bill collector who threatens you over the phone. Utility providers will not shut off service without written notice. 
  • Remember that legitimate companies do not cold call consumers with regard to malfunctioning computers, virus protection, etc. 
  • Even confirming account numbers or Social Security numbers can be dangerous. Make sure to verify who you are talking to.
  • Don’t play along with scammers.
  • Sign up for the national Do Not Call Registry by calling (888) 382-1222. If you’ve signed up already but are still getting calls, file a complaint to report a violation by calling (888) 225-5322.

Get Educated!

Stay one step ahead of the scammers by keeping abreast of scam activity in your area--and across the nation. Good resources include the AARP Scam Tracking Map (learn about scams reported in your neighborhood), AARP Fraud Watch Network (sign up for email updates) and the Council on Aging Top Ten Scams report (sign up for regular updates). 

A firm grounding in the facts, a little diligence and a healthy dose of skepticism will help you avoid being ensnared in scams targeting seniors.~

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