In 2021, more than 92,000 seniors in the U.S. lost $1.7 billion from scams involving government impersonators, fake sweepstakes, various types of fraudulent robocalls, and more. It’s all too easy, but fortunately, there are many ways to reduce senior scam risk.
How Scammers Work
Scammers use misdirection called spoofing to build trust. This is done by using fake caller ID numbers that look familiar to you, or email addresses that appear to be from places you shop or a form of a government agency.
Senior or not, scammers are so successful because they play on psychological triggers to create a sense of urgency to evoke action before you have time to think things through. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as:
- Sense of camaraderie—they pretend to be like you in some way, using key information about, you such as your religion, military background, or hobbies and interests
- Fear of missing out—they offer some opportunity (sweepstakes winnings or a senior-related product, for example), wanting immediate action to redeem the winnings
- Anxiety—they say your bank account or computer has been hacked to invoke anxiety in an effort to get you to do something instantly
- Intimidation—they pretend to be the police, the IRS, or a Medicare representative telling you to have to pay or give your personal information or something bad may happen
How to Avoid Being Scammed
No matter how realistic the approach seems, if it triggers an emotional response, that’s a red flag, and time should be spent assessing the situation. The National Council on Aging offers detailed tips to help seniors avoid scams involving health insurance, Medicare, telemarketers, and home repair or contractor fraud. Some solid rules of thumb seniors can follow to avoid being scammed include:
- Never making an instant decision on something when approached out of the blue
- Never giving out any personal information to anyone via phone or email, unless you initiated the call (such as to make a purchase)
- Stop answering calls if you aren’t certain of the caller–if it’s legitimate, they’ll leave a message
- Put your number on the Do Not Call Registry or get an unlisted number
- Replace your landline with a mobile phone (believe it or not, mobile numbers are targeted less often)
- Register your address with the Direct Marketing Association’s opt-out list to eliminate mail scams
What can Family Members do to Help?
Family members can help their senior loved ones avoid scams with a proactive-but-positive approach. After all, people of all ages are potential scam targets. Talk about why it’s smart to just hang up, delete or toss the mail. Remind your loved one that “don’t trust strangers” is smart advice for adults as well as children to follow.
Another smart thing to do is visit AnnualCreditReport.com to verify that no one has created a fraudulent new account under your loved one's name.
While being the target of scamming is an unfortunate reality for really anyone these days, there are preventative actions to be taken. The best thing to avoid getting scammed is to stay alert for suspicious behavior. If a request is legitimate, they’ll leave a message and you can get back to them on your own time.