June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the signs of elder abuse and how to help prevent it. Financial abuse is the most common and fastest-growing form of elder abuse, with older adults losing upwards of $3 billion each year to financial scams and fraud.
Seniors are frequently targeted by scammers because they have retirement savings and tend to be less familiar with technology than younger generations. Scammers will often victimize older adults who live alone because they may be lonely and more willing to listen to a stranger.
While senior scams are all too common, they can be avoided. Read on for more information about some of the top scams targeting today's seniors and learn how to protect yourself or an older loved one.
Anyone can fall victim to a phishing scam, but scammers see older adults as particularly easy targets because they may not be as confident with technology. Scammers will send emails or text messages posing as reputable sources such as well-known brands, credit card companies, banks or credit unions and even government agencies like the IRS. These phony messages can be highly convincing, tricking victims into clicking links and providing their account information or downloading malware onto their computers that gives scammers access to their personal information.
To avoid becoming a victim, look for the tell-tale signs of a phishing scam, such as unfamiliar email addresses, misspelled words, poor grammar and unusual language. Another tip is to hover over a link before clicking on it to reveal the actual web address that the link leads to. If a link or attachment looks fishy, don't click!
Scammers often rely on fear tactics to trick their victims into taking action right away—before they're able to stop and think. In the classic “grandparent scam," con artists will contact an older adult pretending to be their grandchild or another family member. They will claim they're in an emergency situation, such as a car accident or being held in jail. Then, they will ask the older adult to send money immediately, often in the form of a money wire transfer or gift cards. Today's scammers will even use social media to learn the names of older adults' family members and other facts to make their scams sound realistic.
If you get a call or message like this, pause before you pay. Call another family member to find out if the story is true, even if the “grandchild" told you not to tell anyone. Feeling threatened or pressured to act quickly is one of the most common warning signs of a scam.
Scammers can use stolen Social Security numbers to commit all sorts of financial fraud, including claiming tax returns for themselves. This is why it's so important to safeguard your personally identifiable information, including your Social Security number, at all times. Keep your Social Security card in a safe place and only share your number with organizations when it's absolutely required.
In another tax-related scheme, scammers will call victims posing as the IRS and demanding immediate payment for back taxes. Remember, the IRS will typically initiate contact by mail. The agency will never call to demand immediate payment or threaten to arrest you for not paying. These are common tactics scam artists use to trick people into providing payment or personal information!
Winning a surprise sweepstakes, lottery or giveaway may sound like a dream come true, but unfortunately, it's a common scam that targets seniors. If you receive a call or message from someone claiming you won a contest you never entered, be suspicious, especially if you're asked to pay for “taxes and fees" before getting your prize. It's likely a scammer looking to steal your money!
Anytime someone says you have to pay to get a prize or reward, it's a sure sign of a scam. Real sweepstakes and lotteries don't require payment, and you have to enter to win a prize. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Because older adults know how important it is to plan for retirement, they are often targeted for investment fraud. Con artists posing as financial advisors will contact older adults claiming they have an “exciting investment opportunity" with the promise of little to no risk and big returns. In reality, it's an investment scheme designed to take advantage of their hard-earned money.
To protect yourself, be sure to research and ask plenty of questions before investing. Choose a financial advisor wisely and make sure you verify their background, qualifications and reputation.
If you suspect you have been a victim of a scam, don't hesitate to tell someone you trust. Scammers are counting on older adults being too ashamed to report the crime, which can make the problem worse. And, if you have older loved ones in your life, check in on them often. Being present and asking questions can help you spot the warning signs of financial abuse early and know when to get help.
If you suspect elder financial abuse, use the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging that connects older adults and their families to local services. To report any type of scam, file a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at FTC.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP.
WPCU is here to help you protect your personal and financial information and avoid becoming a victim of fraud. We have the tips, tools and resources you need to keep your money and information safe. For more fraud prevention tips, visit WPCU.coop/StopFraud.