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The Four Scams Every Seniors Should Know About

While scams are a threat to everyone, the rise in scammers targeting older adults is a pressing issue. Seniors are often seen as prime targets due to perceived wealth and a lower likelihood of reporting fraud. From impostor scams to tech support and lottery frauds, these schemes are designed to deceive and intimidate. The U.S. Department of Justice is actively educating the public about several trending elder fraud threats, which are outlined below.

Social Security Administration impostor scam

This scam usually begins with a call, email, text, or social media message from someone claiming to be with a government agency. Scammers often pose as representatives from agencies like the IRS or the Social Security Administration, using fear of unknown consequences and deceit to exploit their victims. These imposters may demand payment via prepaid debit cards, cash, or wire transfers. They are often able to “spoof” the actual phone number of a government agency or call from a recognizable zip code, like 202 for Washington, D.C., to make the call appear legitimate.

Per the Social Security Administration’s website, “If there is a problem with your Social Security number or record, we will typically mail you a letter. Generally, we will call you if you: have recently applied for a Social Security benefit or are currently receiving payments and need to update your record.”

Tech support scam

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) elder fraud report for 2023, tech support scams are among the most widely reported types of elder fraud. These scams take advantage of older adults’ potential lack of familiarity with computers and cybersecurity. A pop-up message or blank screen typically appears, scaring the user with a serious issue with their device. When the victim calls the support number, the scammer may request remote access to their computer and demand a fee for the nonexistent repairs.

Lottery scam

In this scam, fraudulent telemarketers often pose as lawyers, customs officials, or lottery representatives. They claim the victim has won a significant prize, such as a vacation, car, or large sum of money. They then ask for a fee or personal information to claim the prize, which never materializes.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) impostor scam

Fraudsters pose as IRS agents and use aggressive tactics to intimidate victims into paying fake tax bills. They often use caller ID spoofing to make it seem like they are calling from the IRS, and they may threaten arrest or other legal consequences if immediate payment is not made. They typically demand payment gift cards, wire transfers, and other methods that are difficult to trace.

It is important to note that the IRS’s first contact with you will always be a letter in the mail. It’s not a phone call, email, or text message (ftc.gov).

Tips to avoid scams

Scammers today are savvy and sophisticated. Don’t be ashamed if you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam. It can happen to anyone. If you believe you are engaged in a possible scam, below are some tips to remember.

  • The first step is to confirm whether a company or agency trying to reach you is legitimate. You can do this by hanging up and contacting them using the phone numbers or email addresses listed on their official website. Legitimate organizations will never pressure you for immediate payment or sensitive personal information over the phone or through email.
  • If you’re unsure about what you’re being told, ask a friend or family member for advice before taking any further steps.
  • Slow down and think about what the person is saying. Give yourself enough time to think through the situation logically, which will prevent you from making snap decisions.

By staying informed and cautious, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to these fraudulent schemes. If you suspect a scam, report it to local law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission. Your report could help prevent others from becoming victims!