While anyone may be scammed, older adults are at a high risk of falling victim to internet crimes. In 2022, individuals over the age of 60 reported a loss of nearly $1.7 billion. Each year, the total number of complaints and reported financial losses to cybercrimes and internet scams continues to increase.
Online scammers often target older adults for many reasons, namely, they may have accrued lifetime savings, may be less technologically savvy or suffer from cognitive problems that can affect decision-making. If scammed, older adults may feel helpless or embarrassed and fear judgment. They also may not inform family or report a fraud incident due to these fears, so it is essential to proactively educate and prepare your older relatives to protect them against scams.
Most common scams
To best prepare yourself and your loved ones, staying informed on the most common scams is important, as new tactics are used regularly.
In impersonation scams, scammers contact you pretending to be from a government organization such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or Social Security Administration. Scammers can spoof phone numbers, meaning they can make their number appear as if it is from an official government number. These scammers will try to coerce you into sending them money or providing personal information. Scammers will also request particular methods of sending money, such as through wiring, gift cards or cryptocurrency, as these methods are more challenging to track down.
Tip: Know that legitimate government organizations will never contact you demanding money or personal information. Additionally, if you suspect the correspondence to be fraudulent, avoid speaking or pressing any phone buttons and clicking on links in an email or social media.
Investment scammers will make overarching claims that you can make a lot of money or guaranteed profits with little effort. These scammers will often play on your emotions and pressure you to act quickly. Investment scams are often shown on social media and online advertisements. Investment scams can include real estate, cryptocurrency, precious metals and more.
Tip: Investment scammers provide little details about the actual investment. They will also discourage you from doing further research. Legitimate investments will not make claims about proven secrets or no risks involved; only scammers will.
Computer tech support scams
Tech support scammers work by pretending to be a reputable tech company. These scammers will contact you through fake emails or spoofed phone calls and convince you there is something wrong with your computer. Scammers may ask you to give them remote access to your computer, allowing them to access your personal information. These scammers may also require you to provide them with your credit card or banking information to pay for their fake services.
Tip: If you receive an email or a call telling you there is a problem with your computer, hang up the call or delete the email. If you get a pop-up warning about a computer problem, do not click on any links. To verify any concerns about your computer, you can visit the websites of either the company the scammers are pretending to be or your security software company. Use the contact information provided directly from these providers’ websites to verify the legitimacy of these messages.
Prize, sweepstakes and lottery scams
If you are suddenly approached with the opportunity to win a big prize or a large sum of money, this is likely a prize scam. Prize scams will require you to pay for your prize to handle taxes, shipping or processing fees. Prize scammers will also have you pay using difficult-to-track methods. Prize scams may look like they are coming from a reputable organization.
Tip: Real sweepstakes contests will never require you to pay to enter or to increase your chances of winning.
Grandparent scam and AI robocalls
With the increasing prevalence of AI technology, the grandparent scam plays on your emotions and fears and can be hard to spot. Scammers can replicate someone’s voice over the phone and spoof the phone number to make it appear as if it is coming from a loved one. The call will often include an imposter claiming to be in an accident, arrested, or in another distressing situation, and they will ask for immediate financial assistance. This scam is sophisticated as the scammers may have acquired personal information about who they are impersonating. This means that when asking questions to the impersonator to verify their identity, they may know the answers and convince you it is real.
Robocalls are calls that use an automated recorded message instead of a live person. Robocalls use voice recognition technology to gain your verbal consent, which scammers can use to sign off. These calls may say, “Can you hear me?” and once you respond, “Yes.” the scammers will take and use your voice.
Tip: If you suspect you are amidst a grandparent scam call, hang up the phone and call back the loved one using the number you have saved for them. Additionally, try to avoid acting on impulse and out of emotion. For robocalls, avoid picking up calls from unknown numbers and do not speak or press any buttons if you suspect a robocall.
Preparing and protecting your older relatives from scams
Educate them about the signs to look for: In almost all financial scams, you will be asked to pay in a very specific, likely untraceable way. Also, resist the pressure a scammer may be putting on you to act out of impulse or out of emotion.
Be skeptical of emails and calls from unknown sources: Phone numbers can be spoofed, and emails can be crafted to look legitimate easily. Do not trust caller ID; always verify the contact and avoid clicking on any links.
Create a safety code word: Have a word or a phrase on hand for your loved ones to use in emergencies if you are ever in a phone scam situation. Since the scammer will not know the code, you can distinguish the scam more easily.
Private your social media accounts: Privatizing your social media presence prevents potential personal information that you posted from falling into the hands of scammers.
Compile all important contact information: Write down significant phone numbers to quickly contact, verify information or report a scam. Local police, your bank, tech providers and trusted family members can also help.
What to do if you have been scammed
- Call your bank or other financial institution and have them reverse the transaction.
- Change and update compromised passwords.
- Call a friend or family member for support and help if needed. The National Council on Aging also has many resources to support older adults.
- Report any websites, emails, phone numbers, advertisements, etc., associated with the scam once all emergency matters are handled.
- Report the scam to the FTC.