Top 10 Types of Fraud Targeting Older Americans
1. IRS Impersonation Scams
2. Robocalls and Unsolicited Phone Calls
3. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
4. Computer Tech Support Scams
5. Elder Financial Abuse
6. Grandparent Scams
7. Romance Scams
8. Social Security Impersonation Scams
9. Impending Lawsuit Scams
10. Identity Theft
According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), more than 2.4 million Americans have been targeted by scammers impersonating IRS officials, with an average of 150 to 200 victims per week. This IRS scam has been the most frequent scam reported to the US Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline for the past four years.
In this scam, fraudsters typically call their victims and use a technique called Caller-ID Spoofing to disguise their phone numbers, often making it appear that their call is coming from a reputable agency. When a victim answers the call, the fraudsters will generally claim that the victim owes back taxes and penalties for late payments. They then threaten retaliation, such as home foreclosure, arrest, and, in some cases, deportation if immediate payment is not made by certified check, credit card, electronic wire transfer, prepaid debit card, or gift card.
The IRS released the following tips to help taxpayers identify suspicious calls that may be associated with the IRS Impersonation Scam:
- The IRS will never call a taxpayer to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill to the taxpayer.
- The IRS will never demand that a taxpayer pay taxes without giving him or her the opportunity to question or appeal the amount claimed to be owed.
- The IRS will never ask for a credit or debit card number over the phone.
- The IRS will never threaten to send local police or other law enforcement to have a taxpayer arrested.
- The IRS will never require a taxpayer to use a special payment method for taxes, such as a prepaid debit card or gift cards.
2. Robo Calls and Unsolicited Phone Calls
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there are nearly 2.4 billion robocalls made every month. In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 3.8 million robocall complaints.
Robocalls help facilitate contact between scammers and potential victims. Once a victim has answered a robo call, they are often asked to pay for fraudulent services like extending their car warranty, or to make a donation to a fraudulent company. Information obtained from these types of calls can then be used for identity theft.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has published the following tips for consumers to avoid being deceived by caller-ID spoofing:
- Do not give out personal information in response to an incoming call. Identity thieves are clever: they often pose as representatives of banks, credit card companies, creditors, or government agencies to convince victims to reveal their account numbers, Social Security numbers, mothers’ maiden names, passwords, and other identifying information.
- If you receive an inquiry from a company or government agency seeking personal information, do not provide it. Instead, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phonebook, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to find out if the entity that supposedly called you actually needs the requested information from you.
In this scam, fraudsters generally contact victims by phone, email. or through the mail to tell them that they have won or have been entered to win a prize. Scammers then require the victims to pay a fee to either collect their supposed winnings or to improve their odds of winning the prize.
Often, the fraudsters will claim that the victim has won a large prize, such as a car, but will need to pay to have the item shipped and/or will need to pay taxes on the winnings. The fraudster typically asks for the money to be wired, sent by a money order, or paid in the form of a pre-paid debit card. Some will also request cash payments.
AARP has released the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of sweepstakes and lottery scams:
- Don’t ever pay a fee to claim a prize you’ve supposedly won or to improve your chances of winning.
- Don’t wire money to or share gift card numbers with someone claiming to represent a contest or lottery. “Both payment methods are a sure sign of a scam,” the FTC warns.
- Don’t deposit supposed winnings that come in the form of a partial-payment check, accompanied by instructions to return a portion to the contest sponsors. The check will bounce, and you’ll likely have to repay your bank for any withdrawals from that deposit, including what you sent the scammers.
- Don’t believe people who contact you via social media about a cash prize, especially if they purport to be Mark Zuckerberg — the New York Times recently reported on con artists who promise big money in the online guise of the Facebook chief executive.
- Don’t call a number with an 876, 809 or 284 area code to confirm that you’ve won a prize. Though they aren’t identified on your phone as foreign, those codes belong to Caribbean countries that have become hotbeds for contest frauds. They might be masking “pay-per-call” services (the equivalent of 900 numbers in the United States) that enable the number’s owner to charge a hefty per-minute fee — which you won’t discover until you get your next phone bill.
The basic scam involves con artists trying to gain the victims’ trust by pretending to be associated with a well-known technology company, such as Microsoft, Apple, Dell, or McAffee. They then falsely claim that the victims’ computers have been infected with a virus.
Con artists convince victims to give them remote access to their computers, personal information, and credit card and bank account number so that victims can be “billed” for fraudulent services to fix the virus. In a related scam, individuals searching the internet may see a pop-up window on their computer instructing them to contact a fraudulent tech-support agent who may request payment for removing the virus or resolving the technical issue. Sometimes, scammers have used the pop-up window to hack into victims’ computers, lock them out, and require victims to pay a ransom to regain control of their computers.
Tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help consumers avoid becoming a victim of a computer-based scam:
- Do not give control of your computer to a third party that calls you out of the blue.
- Do not rely on caller ID to authenticate a caller. Criminals spoof caller ID numbers. They may appear to be calling from a legitimate company or a local number when they are not even in the same country as you.
- If you want to contact tech support, look for a company’s contact information on its software package or on your receipt. Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone who calls and claims to be from tech support.
- If a caller pressures you to buy a computer security product or says there is a subscription fee associated with the call, hang up.
- If you’re concerned about your computer, call your security software company directly and ask for help.
- Make sure you have updated all of your computer’s anti-virus software, firewalls, and popup blockers.
Financial abuse of older Americans is the illegal or improper use of an older adults funds, property, or assets. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion annually due to financial exploitation, although these numbers are likely substantially under-reported.
Older Americans are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation because financial decision-making ability can decrease with age. One study found that women are almost twice as likely to be victims of financial abuse. Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone, and require support with daily activities. Perpetrators include family members, paid homecare workers, those with fiduciary responsibilities (such as financial advisors or legal guardians), or strangers who defraud older adults through mail, telephone, or Internet scams.
The state of New York has released the following protective measures that can be used to help avoid being the victim of elder financial abuse:
Financial advisors can take certain measures to prevent against financial abuse by trusted people, including:
- Looking out for changes in investment style, attitude, or caregiver activity.
- Frequently asking questions and paying close attention to older clients.
- Getting to know the family members and caregivers of your client.
Elders and family members can take other measures to prevent exploitation by trusted people, including:
- Have an objective third party look over financial statements.
- If you feel pressured to give up information or sign documents, talk to another family member that you feel comfortable with or contact a financial advisor.
- Be suspicious about anyone who has recently gained an interest in your life and/or finances.
When Hiring Caregivers:
- Hire through a certified agency.
- If you feel something isn’t right about the relationship between the caregiver and the elder, be prepared to fire the caregiver.
- Ask for and check references.
In this scam, impostors either pretend to be the victims’ grandchild and/or claim to be holding the victims’ grandchild. The fraudsters claim that grandchild is in trouble and needs money to help with an emergency, such as getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill, or leaving a foreign country. Scammers play on victims’ emotions and trick concerned grandparents into sending money to them.
There have recently been frequent reports of con-artists telling victims their family member was pulled over by the police and arrested after drugs were found in the car. The scammer, who is pretending to be the victim’s grandchild will often tell the victim to refrain from alerting the grandchild’s parents in hopes the scam won’t be uncovered. The scammer then asks the victim to help by sending money in the fastest way possible. This typically requires the victim to go to a local retailer and send an electric wire transfer of several thousand dollars.
In another version of the scam, instead of the “grandchild” making the phone call, the con artist pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, or a doctor.
The Consumer Federation of America has released the following tips for protecting yourself from falling victim to the grandparent scam:
- If you get a call or email from someone claiming to know you and asking for help, check to confirm that it’s legitimate before you send any money.
- Ask some questions that would be hard for an imposter to answer correctly – the name of the person’s pet, for example, or the date
of their mother’s birthday.
- Contact the person who they claim to be directly. If you can’t reach the person, contact someone else – a friend or relative of the person.
- Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person you know.
Typically, scammers contact victims online either through a chatroom, dating site, social media site, or email. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), 90 percent of the complaints submitted in 2016 contained a social media aspect. Con artists have been known to create elaborate profile pages, giving their fabricated story more credibility. Con artists often call and chat on the phone to prove that they are real. These conversations can take place over weeks and even months as the con artists build trust with their victims. In some instances, con artists have even promised to marry their victims.
Inevitably, con artists in these scams will ask their victims for money for a variety of things. Often, con artists will ask for travel expenses so they can visit the victims in the United States. In other cases, they claim to need money for medical emergencies, hotel expenses, hospital bills for a child or relative, visas or other official documents, or losses from a temporary financial setback. Unfortunately, in spite of telling their victims they will never ask for any more money, something always comes up resulting in the con artist requesting more money.
In a related scam known as confidence fraud, con artists gain the trust of the victim by assuming the identities of U.S. soldiers. Victims believe they are corresponding with an American soldier who is serving overseas who claims to need financial assistance. Scammers will often take the true name and rank of a U.S. soldier who is honorably serving his or her country somewhere in the world, or has previously served and been honorably discharged. In addition, the con artist will even use real photos of that soldier in their profile pages, giving their stories more credibility.
Tips from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center to help prevent consumers from falling victim to romance scams:
- Be cautious of individuals who claim the romance was destiny or fate, or that you are meant to be together.
- Be cautious if an individual tells you he or she is in love with you and cannot live without you but needs you to send money to fund a visit.
- Fraudsters typically claim to be originally from the United States (or your local region), but are currently overseas, or going overseas, for business or family matters.
In this scam, consumers receive calls from individuals claiming to represent the Social Security Administration (SSA). While there are several variations of this scam, the caller generally asks for personal information such as Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and/or bank or financial account information.
In these scams, the fraudster is hoping to obtain the victim’s personal information by a variety of methods, including by offering to help complete a disability application, apply for a piece of medical equipment, or obtain a new Medicare card.
In addition to phone calls, some victims have reported getting emails claiming to be from SSA. According to SSA’s website, “Social Security will not send you an email asking you to give us your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or other private information. If someone saying they are from Social Security does email you requesting information, don’t respond to the message.
Tips from the Senate Special Committee on Aging to help protect you from Social Security Scams:
- Social Security will not call to ask for your bank account information or SSN.
- There will never be a fee charged to obtain a Social Security card.
- Social Security numbers do not get suspended.
- Never give out personal information over the phone to someone you do not know.
- Don’t be afraid to call SSA’s Inspector General at their toll free number (1-800-772-1213) to verify the caller/request.
Similar to the IRS Impersonation or Social Security Impersonation scams, the Impending Lawsuit Scam typically involves consumers receiving calls from individuals claiming to be from local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies. Consumers are told that there is a warrant out for their arrest, and unless the person agrees to pay a fine, they will be immediately arrested. Often times, the caller says the arrest warrant was issued for failing to report for jury duty. To give the calls more credibility, scammers will often spoof their call so caller-ID appears to show that the call is coming from a local sheriff’s or police department.
Usually, the caller imposes a deadline, such as the end of the business day, by which the police will come for the victim for ignoring court summonses. In these scams, no such summonses have been issued, but scammers will try to convince their victim that multiple notices have been sent that they have missed. The scammer then either asks for payment to resolve the issue without arresting the victim, or for personal information, such as a Social Security number, that could compromise their identity. While scammers usually create a sense of urgency or attempt to fluster the victims, some variations have scammers calmly asking for personal information as a matter of procedure to then sell to identity thieves.
Tips from the Federal Trade Commission for avoiding Impending Lawsuit Scams:
- Don’t wire money Scammers often pressure people into wiring money, or strongly suggest that people put money on a prepaid debit card and send it to them. Why? It’s like sending cash: once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back.
- Don’t give the caller your financial or other personal information. Never give out or confirm financial or other sensitive information, including your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you know who you’re dealing with. Scam artists can use your information to commit identity theft — charging your existing credit cards, opening new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name. If you get a call about a debt that may be legitimate contact the company you owe money to about the calls.
- Don’t trust a name or number. Con artists use official-sounding names to make you trust them. It’s illegal for any promoter to lie about an affiliation with — or an endorsement by — any organization. No matter how convincing their story may be.
- Be aware that to make their call seem legitimate, scammers also use internet technology to disguise their area code. So even though it may look like they’re calling from a local or official-seeming number, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
- Put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry. This won’t stop scammers from calling, but it should make you skeptical of calls you receive. Most legitimate businesses honor the Do Not Call list. Scammers ignore it. Putting your number on the list helps to “screen” your calls for legitimacy and reduce the number of legitimate telemarketing calls you get. Register your phone number at donotcall.gov.