More and more scammers are finding older Americans as appealing targets. According to a report from the FBI, in 2020, seniors lost nearly $1 billion to elderly scams. Over 105,000 people over the age of 65 were scammed, with the average amount lost being $9,175. Approximately 2,000 elders lost more than $100,000.
There are countless avenues that scammers use against seniors, including digital scams, which are becoming more and more common. We will go over what you can look for to prevent scams, ways to protect your senior loved ones from scams, and what to do if they have been scammed.
Why Scammers and Frauds Target Seniors
Seniors are prime targets for con artists for a few simple reasons: They have a tendency to be more trusting, more vulnerable, and are less likely to report incidents.
According to the FBI, older adults may not know how to report fraud, may be too ashamed to admit they’ve been scammed, or may be afraid that their loved ones will lose trust in their ability to manage their own finances and therefore have their control taken away.
4 Digital Scams Seniors Commonly Face
- Confidence Fraud and Romance Scams
These scams appeal to the senior’s emotions, either on social media or dating sites. Con artists will gain their trust by manipulating them into believing they are building a friendship or romance. It is common for scammers to use religion as a source to gain their trust.When the scammer has reached the point where they have convinced the victim of the relationship, they will ask to borrow money or persuade them to buy and send gift cards, for example. The FBI states that according to reports received by IC3, 6,817 senior citizen victims experienced a total of over $281 million in losses to these kind of scams in 2020.
- Identity Theft (Pharming, Phishing, and Smishing)
IdentityForce states that 33% of adults have experienced identity theft and more than one in four older adults has had their identity stolen.There are three digital methods used by scammers to steal identities:
- Pharming: this method encourages older adults to visit fake websites that look like legitimate ones. When seniors are on these fake sites, they will be prompted to give up their personal information like their account numbers, passwords, etc.
- Phishing: This method occurs when seniors are conned via email. A deceptive message will be designed and sent to victims, tricking them into revealing sensitive information. Victims of this method might be told that there’s a problem with a bank account or a package delivery, prompting them to click a link to enter the correct information.
- Smishing: Similar to phishing, however this method is via texts or SMS. Victims of this scam will be sent a false message claiming to be from a reputable company. These messages will urge the victim to reveal personal information, pay money out, or click on suspicious links.
- Non-Payment or Non-Delivery of Fraudulent Products
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many seniors have begun to shop online. Unfortunately, this gives fraud scammers new opportunities to prey on older adults.These scams are not only happening on shopping websites, but also social media sites and more and more seniors are using them. Scammers are able to post false advertisements, luring seniors in. Older adults say that they have ordered products from links on social media and have either received unrelated items or nothing at all.According to the FBI, in 2020, senior citizens filed over 14,000 Non-Payment/Non-Delivery complaints, with losses exceeding $40 million.
- Tech Support Fraud
This method of scamming relies on the unfamiliarity that seniors have with computers and digital devices. Clicking a link to a fake site may trigger what seems to be about viruses and/or other issues with a computer. It’s common for there to be a pop-up providing a phone number to call to receive assistance. Victims of this type of scam may also receive an email regarding a software license renewal which requires their immediate response.Scammers typically request remote access to a computer and then demonstrate how they’re ‘fixing’ the issues, all while simultaneously digging around for personal information like account numbers and passwords. They also might ask for credit card numbers as payment for their ‘services’.The FBI states that in 2020, the IC3 received 9,429 Tech Support Fraud complaints from older victims, losing more than $116 million. Older Adults make up 66% of the total tech support reports and 84% of the monetary losses.
Ways You Can Protect Your Senior Loved One
There are some easy steps you can take to protect your loved one from being scammed and to encourage them to protect themselves:
- Be cautious of downloads. Make sure you tell them to never open an email attachment from anyone they do not know, and to be careful when it comes to attachments that are forwarded to them.
- Do not share information. Whether online, in an email, over the phone, or in a mail-in envelope, be sure you tell them to never give out their personal information, especially when it comes to unfamiliarity with a company or why they need the information.
- Secure the computer. Ensure another layer of protection by installing an anti-virus, security, and malware software from a reputable company to the computer. Also, be sure the software is up to date, so the programs are working correctly.
- Set up bank safeguards. If you are worried about your loved one’s financial choices, set up a local account that you can monitor. Implement spending limits and alerts. Another way to be extra secure is to put their savings into another, more secure account.
- Shut down for a pop-up. If your loved one receives a concerning pop-up or if their screen locks up, make sure you instruct them on how to turn off their internet and shut down their computer. Pop-ups can spread detrimental software so it’s important to enable pop-up blockers.
- Watch out for emails. While scammers will spoof known companies, they often misspell words or use incorrect grammar. It’s imperative that you do not click any links if you receive a suspicious email. This is especially true when the suspect email has an ‘unsubscribe’ link; clicking it will let the scammer know that the email address is live and will continue to send fraudulent emails.
What Should You Do When Your Elder Love One is Being Scammed
Contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online. There’s also the option to file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
If you do report to the FBI, be sure you inform them with as many details as possible:
- Dates of contact
- Descriptions of your communications with the scammer and the instructions you were given
- Methods of communication
- Methods of payment
- Name(s) of the scammer and/or company
- Phone numbers, email addresses, mailing addresses, and websites used by the scammer
- Where funds were sent, including wire transfers and prepaid cards. Be ready to supply the financial institution names, account names, and account numbers.
The FBI also urges you to hold onto original documentation, emails, faxes, and logs of all communications.