WE ALL LIKE TO THINK THAT WE ARE SMART ENOUGH NOT TO FALL FOR ONE OF THOSE SCAMS WE HEAR ABOUT ON THE NEWS.
No one wants to be taken advantage of by an online or phone scammer. Unfortunately, no matter how unflappable you think you are, anyone can be ripped off by a scammer under the right circumstances. This is in part because it’s easier to access personal data and we tend to have our phones on us all the time. Scams have also become more sophisticated over the years and there are a lot of them.[i]
DID YOU KNOW? SCAMS CHEAT OLDER AMERICANS OUT OF $3 BILLION A YEAR AND ONE IN TEN AMERICANS AGE 65 OR OLDER HAS BEEN A VICTIM OF A SCAM.[II]
Older Americans are particularly vulnerable to certain types of scams, in part because whole segments of the scamming operations are dedicated to preying on seniors.[iii]
RETIRED ADULTS ARE AN ATTRACTIVE MARK FOR TWO REASONS:
1. THEY ARE A WEALTHY POPULATION
2. THEIR AGE-RELATED COGNITIVE DECLINE MAKES THEM MORE VULNERABLE.
So, what can you do to protect yourself? In this article, we will go over a few tips to safeguard yourself from scams.
Tip One: Beware of Telephone Calls from Government Offices or Businesses
A majority of senior-scams come from telemarketers. Last year alone, an estimated $1 billion dollars was scammed and 70% of it started with a phone call.[iv] A good rule of thumb is to never answer unknown numbers. If you do answer, do not give any personal information without doing your homework. Scammers and robo-callers now use a trick called “spoofing” where they falsify their phone number and make it look like a local number to increase the likelihood you’ll answer.
- Social Security Scams: Predatory calls will often claim to be from the Social Security Administration. They may even “spoof” a hotline number for SSA. It is important to remember that government offices send written and certified notices to your address. They would not call you unless they were returning a phone call and they would not ask you for personal information over the phone.
- Medicare Scams: Medicare scammers often call asking for your Medicare ID. Anytime you are on the phone and your instinct is saying things aren’t right, it’s okay to hang up. You can call the office back yourself, through the main number, to confirm the call was legitimate.
- Computer Assistance Scams: Be suspicious of any calls coming regarding your internet speed, computer viruses, or companies offering to help you fix an issue that they suspect your computer may have. These callers will typically ask you to provide them with access to your computer. If you have not called for computer support, then the person calling is likely to be untrustworthy.
- The threat of legal action: Any call that threatens legal action over the phone should be regarded as suspicious and likely a scam.
Tip Two: Beware Grandparent Scams
Grandparent scams are a particularly loathsome scam where the scammer pretends to be a grandchild in distress and asking for money. Other times the person is claiming to be a lawyer of the grandchild. The scam is always urgent and requests wire transfers. Sometimes the victims are mailing cash, in various envelopes or even tucked in the pages of magazines.
DID YOU KNOW? ONE IN FOUR PEOPLE OVER THE AGE OF 70 REPORTED LOSING CASH TO A FRIEND OR FAMILY IMPOSTER.[V]
This scam prays on kindness and creates a sense of urgency, causing the victim to rush around without thinking through what they are doing. If you think you’ve been a victim of a grandparent scam, the first step should be to hang up and call the person back on the number you have for them. This scam often encourages the victim to keep the money transfer secret so as not to alarm other relatives, making this scam harder to obtain statistics on because some people have never told anyone of the transaction. No matter how distressing it may be or how urgent it may sound, verify the story, and be suspicious of any and all requests for mailed cash or wire transfers.[vi] This is a crime, so if you receive a call or email like this, report it to your local authorities.
Tip Three: Be Wary of Unsolicited Requests for Donations
Charitable giving is a wonderful and important thing. It makes us feel good and helps people. Unfortunately, not all charities are created equal and some are scams. Scammers are opportunists and natural disasters are often an enticing opportunity where people want to help and are quick to write a check or give a donation without looking too closely at the details.
LIKE THE TWO ABOVE TIPS, A SCAMMER WILL NORMALLY REACH OUT TO YOU UNSOLICITED.
Unsolicited requests for donations, personal information, and the like are behaviors of a charity scammer. They may even have a fake website or be impersonating an actual non-profit. Before you provide any charity with financial information over the phone, ask them for their official organization name and EIN do a search for them on the 501c3 database. Any legitimate charity will gladly provide you with this information and wait for you to do your research before you choose to give.
Tip Four: Trust Your Gut. “Too Good to Be True” Usually Is
Certain types of people tend to be more susceptible to scams. Those who are lonely, those who are trusting, those with diminished mental capacity due to age, and those who love deals tend to be the most vulnerable. Scammers, especially those preying via phone or email, often target emotions to convince their victims. They scare you that your Social Security benefits are frozen, or your computer has a virus. They panic you into reacting without thinking, like wire transferring money to a grandchild under very suspicious circumstances. They prey on your desire to help and be charitable. They take advantage of your fixed income, offering you ways to grow your money, buy things cheap, or get a special discount.
SCAMMERS ARE PROFESSIONALS, WHO HAVE BEEN TRAINED, MUCH LIKE THE DOOR-TO-DOOR SALESPEOPLE OF OLD, TO GET THEIR FOOT IN THE DOOR AND NOT TAKE NO FOR ANSWER.
Your job is to trust your instincts. If they are calling you, that’s the first flag. If they are rushing you or threatening you or if they are asking for vital personal information like a social security number, wiring info, or credit card–be on guard. Any time you are suspicious, stop communication and take a moment to do some research. Check the website, call the main number, understand their policies. Scammers benefit from impulsivity so the more time you give yourself to look over the details, the less likely you are to fall victim to these predators.