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Be vigilant: Financial scams aimed at seniors on the rise

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Dear Savvy Senior: What are the most common scams today that target seniors? My 75-year-old mother has been swindled several times over the past year, so I’m being extra cautious. — Paranoid Patty

Dear Patty: Great question! While many scams today are universal, there are certain types of fraud that specifically target older adults or affect them disproportionately. And unfortunately, these senior-targeted scams are on the rise.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2021, 92,371 older victims of fraud were hit with $1.7 billion in losses. This was a 74% increase in losses compared with 2020.

Here are five of the most common senior scams that were reported in 2021, that both you and your mom should be aware of.

>> Government imposter scams: These are fraudulent telephone calls from people claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration or Medicare. These scammers might tell you that you have unpaid taxes and threaten arrest or deportation if you don’t pay up immediately. Or they might say your Social Security or Medicare benefits are in danger of being cut off if you don’t provide personal identifying information. They might even “spoof” your caller ID to make it look like the government is actually calling.

>> Sweepstakes and lottery scams: These scams might contact you by phone, mail or email. They tell you that you’ve won or have the potential to win a jackpot, and they say you need to pay a fee or cover taxes and processing fees to receive your prize. Then the scammer asks you to pay by prepaid debit card, wire transfer, money order or cash. Scammers might even impersonate well-known sweepstakes organizations, like Publishers Clearing House, to fool you.

>> Robocalls and phone scam: Robocalls take advantage of sophisticated, automated phone technology to carry out a variety of scams on trusting older adults who answer the phone. Some robocalls might claim that a warranty is expiring on a car or electronic device and that payment is needed to renew it. These scammers might also “spoof” the number to make the call look authentic.

One common robocall is the “Can you hear me?” call. When the older person says “yes,” the scammer records their voice and hangs up. The criminal then has a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges on items like stolen credit cards.

>> Computer tech support scams: These scams prey on a senior’s lack of knowledge about computers and cybersecurity. A pop-up message or blank screen usually appears on a computer or phone, telling you that your device is compromised and needs fixing. When you call the support number for help, the scammer might request remote access to your computer and/or that you pay a fee to have it repaired.

>> Grandparent scam: This scam has been around for several years now. A scammer will call and say something along the lines of, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer has established a fake identity.

The fake grandchild will then ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (legal trouble, overdue rent, car repairs, etc.), to be paid via gift cards or money transfers, which don’t always require identification to collect.

>> Other scams: Some popular scams targeting older adults right now are romance scams through social media and online dating sites, COVID-19 scams, investment scams, Medicare and health insurance scams, and internet and email fraud.

For more information on the different types of senior scams to watch out for, along with tips to help your mom protect herself, visit the National Council on Aging website at NCOA.org, and in the search bar, type in “the top 5 financial scams targeting older adults.”


Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.


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