CAPE GIRARDEAU (BBB) — No matter your age, no one is immune to scams. But older adults report higher median losses. Why is that? Scammers often target this group with schemes, such as investment fraud and romance scams, where victims lose thousands of dollars. Watch out for these tricks and techniques often used to scam older adults.
Why Older Adults?
According to the 2019 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report, fraud susceptibility decreases as you get older, but dollar loss actually increases with age. Adults over age 65 reported a median loss of $350. That’s a significant increase from the average $100 lost by people aged 18–24.
This increase can be attributed to the types of scams aimed at older adults. According to the report, older people are more likely to be targeted by travel schemes, home improvement cons, romance scams, and investment fraud. Scammers target older adults because they are perceived as easier to persuade and generally have access to greater financial resources. Retired people are more likely to be at home to answer the door or telephone.
In addition, research conducted by the BBB Institute, FINRA Investor Education Foundation, and the Stanford Center on Longevity found another reason why older adults may fall victim to scams: loneliness made people more likely to engage with and lose money to scammers. This was especially true when the person felt he or she lacked companionship and was isolated from loved ones. Single, divorced, and widowed people were also at higher risk since many felt they didn’t have a companion to discuss their experiences and doubts with.
Common Scams and Tips to Spot Them
BBB recommends the following precautions to avoid becoming a victim:
Watch out for phone fraud. The Federal Trade Commission reports that fraudulent telemarketers often direct their calls at older adults. Scammers claim to be calling in an official capacity as a government agent or bank employee. They may sound friendly and courteous or aggressive and threatening. They may even have a caller ID to match their claims.
However, caller IDs can be easily spoofed and government agencies DON’T make unsolicited calls. It is vital to cultivate a healthy distrust for unsolicited callers and avoid sharing personal information. Never feel pressured to act. When in doubt, hang up the phone and call the official source to verify unexpected or unusual claims. You can also reduce the number of unsolicited calls you receive by registering your phone number with the National Do-Not-Call registry at 1-888-382-1222 or Donotcall.gov.
Know the red flags. Most scammers use common tactics to get your money or personal information. Keep an eye out for the following too-good-to-be-true claims:
“Free,” “low cost,” or “buy one, get one” deal
Request for unusual payment types (i.e. prepaid debit cards or wired funds)
Claims that you only pay postage or administrative fees
The pressure to act now and/or aggressive tones
Deals that must be secured with a credit card or bank account information
Sure-fire investment opportunities
Charities that send 100% of your donation directly to the victims
Only hire trustworthy, licensed contractors. Older adults often need extra help around the house and may hire someone to complete a renovation project and landscape work. However, never hire someone who just shows up at your door and don’t let them in or around your home for “inspections. Instead, if you need repair work, use BBB.org to search for accredited businesses and ask friends and family for recommendations. Then, research the companies, keeping a close eye on past reviews or complaints. Always make sure the contractor or company is properly licensed and never pay in full upfront. Read BBB’s Tips on Hiring a Contractor.
A strange phone call? Might be an emergency scam: Older adults can be susceptible to emergency scams and other ploys because they aren’t familiar with the information about themselves and their family available online. This trick begins with a phone call from someone posing as your grandchild, niece or nephew, or other young family member. Scammers research victims using social media and often know family names, travel plans, and other details. The phony grandchild will claim to be out of town and in an emergency situation – anything from a car accident to a wrongful arrest. The scam artist will urge you to send money ASAP and not tell Mom or Dad. Read more about emergency scams.
Watch out for Medicare fraud: Here is one scam that’s aimed right at older Americans: free medical equipment. Medicare fraud has cost the American public more than $60 billion, and a large part of that is fraud around “durable medical equipment,” such as knee braces or walkers. By making repeated calls, scammers badger Medicare recipients into taking “free” medical equipment. Then, they bill Medicare for it. By law, no one is allowed to make unsolicited calls to consumers about durable medical equipment. If you get such a call, just hang up.
Do your research before making an investment: Investment cons often target older adults because of their greater financial resources. They frequently prey on longstanding group connections – such as through a religious organization or an ethnic group – where members trust each other. Even if you are a savvy investor, you can still fall victim to this scam. Con artists are masters of persuasion, and they often learn the weaknesses of their targets and tailor their pitches accordingly. Read more about investment cons.
Think before you click. Older adults may be less comfortable with technology making them more vulnerable to phishing schemes and hacking. Links found in unsolicited emails or messages on social media can be especially dangerous. They may look like they lead to an official website, but they will download malware onto your computer that gives scammers access to your sensitive information. Protect yourself by only clicking on links that come from people you know and trust and by keeping your antivirus software up to date.
Be on guard for “sweetheart” swindles. Older adults who are widowed or divorced are frequent targets of romance scams. If you meet someone online who shows a romantic interest in you, don’t be too quick to trust them. These scams can often take months to develop to the point where money changes hands. Con artists create compelling backstories, and full-fledged identities, then trick you into falling for someone who doesn’t even exist. A common romance scam involves charming the victim and then asking for money for medical expenses, family concerns, or other reasons that pull at the heartstrings. Once the con artist receives the funds, they disappear for good. Read more about romance scams.
Reach out to someone you trust. Scammers want victims to feel isolated. Don’t hesitate to contact a friend, family member, or organization you trust for advice. A second opinion can greatly reduce your risk. Read more about phishing scams.
Take time to research your purchases. Scammers often make unsolicited offers to older adults for medical supplies, anti-aging products, and vitamins and supplements. They might contact you over the phone, as a door-to-door salesperson, or via online messages. They make incredible offers with the goal of getting their hands on your personal information or money. Before you agree to purchase the next miracle product that comes your way, take a few minutes to research the company to make sure their products and offers are legitimate. Read about free trial offer scams.
Guard your personal information carefully. Never share your personal information with a stranger on the phone, in an email, on a social media network, or otherwise. Keep careful records of your transactions by reviewing your bank and credit card statements regularly. Check them for accuracy and then shred any documents that include personal information before throwing them away. Read more about data privacy.
To learn more about how to avoid common scams, visit BBB.org/AvoidScams.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a scam that targets older adults, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker.