We seniors are looked on by scammers as easy marks because we tend to be trustful. I’m one target; I’ve been called many times by a man claiming to be from Microsoft Engineering, and he always makes the same warning, that my computer is in danger and I need to turn it on and enter a certain code.
I always ask for a callback number to check on the call and he breaks off. I get this scam about once a month. Here are five common tactics fraudsters use to separate seniors from their money from the National Council on Aging:
1. The Grandparents Scam
We were alerted about this scam when the mother of one our own NCA staffers was targeted. Judy Somers, mother of our senior director of content and SEO, received a call from someone claiming to be her grandson and asking for financial help. Fortunately, Somers was fully aware the gruff-voiced caller was not one of her young grandchildren. Many fall victim to this trick.
How to avoid: If you receive a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be a relative or loved one, say you’ll call back, and check the story with other relatives.
2. Investment Schemes
Whether it’s pyramid schemes or your neighbor selling cheap plots of land in Florida as a “sure-fire” investment opportunity, beware.
Seniors are ripe targets for scams like these. Many of the victims of Bernie Madoff’s investment scheme were seniors.
How to avoid: Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be suspicious of anyone who promises massive returns on an investment and be sure to only deal with reputable and credible institutions.
3. Email Scams
All kinds of nasty scams spread via email. Email scams are often variations on the investment scam or the lottery scam. Many emails purport to be from a rich or well-connected individual and claim that they can give you a cut in their fortune if you will just offer a little assistance to them.
These are known as 419 scams or “Nigerian” email scams. The stories vary widely, but targets are led to believe they’ll be given a fortune, but end up spending a fortune.
How to avoid: Be inherently distrustful of unsolicited emails and don’t disclose private information online except to a trusted organization.
4. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
This trick is old. Victims are told they have won a sweepstakes or lottery, but that they must make a payment to “unlock” their winnings. Often, seniors who fall for the ruse are sent a check that initially appears to have great value, and only a few days later, it bounces. During that lag time, “the criminals will quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes, which they pocket.”
How to avoid: Be wary, again, of what seems to be too good to be true.
5. Medicare Card and Medicaid Card ID Theft Scam
Callers claiming to represent various government agencies or official-sounding organizations tell seniors that their Medicare or Medicaid cards must be replaced. This is a ruse to get a senior’s personal information for the purpose of identity theft.
How to avoid: Never give personal information such as your Social Security number or banking information over the phone.
Sam Bauman writes about senior issues for the Nevada Appeal.