As reported by Consumer Affairs, more than 3.5 million older adults are victims of financial scams costing them $3 billion each year. An average senior targeted by fraudsters suffers an average loss of $34,200. The report further states that seniors over the age of 60 are often more vulnerable and elderly victims over 80 report even higher financial losses.
A Phone call is the most common method for scammers to contact and target the elderly as they are twice likely, as compared to other consumers, to make a purchase over the phone call. The main targets of scammers through elderly phone scams are:
- Identity Theft: They try to get seniors to share personal information, bank details, social security details etc
- Sell Products: These con artists try to get them to purchase some product or service that they will never get delivered
The phone scams targeting seniors often go unreported because either senior citizens are too ashamed to admit that they have been scammed or do not know how to report the crime.
Read More: Top 10 Online Scams Targeting Seniors
So, what are the most common telephone scams targeting elderly? and how to protect elderly from phone scams? Let’s discuss.
7 Common Elderly Phone Scams
Scammers always come up with new ways to cheat the elderly out of their money. Common and recent phone scams targeting seniors include:
1. Grandparent Scam
This is one of the well-known telephone scams targeting elderly, yet many seniors fall for it.
How it Works
The victim gets a call from someone posing as his/ her grandchild. The imposter tells the grandparent that he/she is in trouble because of some emergency, accident or arrest in a frantic-sounding voice.
The scammer makes some family references, gleaned from social media accounts, to make the whole scenario emotional and pretend to be in a hospital or stuck in a foreign land. The caller urges the grandparent to send some money to get him/ her out of trouble and also begs to not tell anyone about his situation.
Sometimes the scammer pretends to be a police officer or lawyer trying to help the grandchild. The grandparent scams are still common because the scammers play with the emotions of older adults. Seniors, who even have knowledge about these types of scams, fall for them.
2. Lottery Scams
Next category of senior citizens phone scams is sweepstakes and lottery scams. According to research by Federal Trade Commission, 10% of scams fall into this category.
How it Works
The fraudster tells older adults they have won a lottery or prize of some kind through a telephone call. They use names of well-known organizations to seem legit. They ask you to pay some kind of fees for taxes or shipping and handling charges to claim your prize or lottery.
Some scammers may ask you for personal information or bank account details to transfer your prize to your bank.
They will pressurize to “act now” to claim your prize as it is a limited-time offer. These types of scams work because of greed, urgency and excitement.
3. Charity Scams
This type of phone scam is used to target seniors after a tragic event or major disaster such as a hurricane. Charity scammers are also active during holidays when people donate more than at any other time.
How it Works
They ask you to donate to an organization or person who is in trouble. They also emotionally trigger you to donate because it is the holiday season. They often imitate the name and material of a real charity to gain your trust and make you believe that you are doing a great act of kindness.
4. Investments Scams
These types of elderly phone scams involve promises of big payouts and guaranteed returns by tricking you into investing money. Older adults have savings and other assets and attract more investment scammers than others.
How it Works
Investment fraudsters often pretend to be telemarketers or financial advisors that seem friendly and smart. They earn your trust and present you with an “urgent investment opportunity” for a limited time to trick you into investing.
5. Tech support scams
Another type of phone scams targeting seniors is tech support scams.
How it Works
The scammer calls pretending to be a computer technician from a well-known tech company and claims to find a problem with your computer. They ask you to grant them remote access to your computer for a free diagnostic test.
Then they try to convince you to make a payment to fix a problem that does not exist. Remote access to your computer means they can send a virus file or use other methods to steal your data and private information.
6. Senior benefits scam calls
You can access many benefits, perks and discounts for being a senior but it also makes you vulnerable to scams from fraudsters.
How it Works
Seniors get a phone call telling them that they need a new Medicare card or health insurance to get medical care. The scammers may also tell seniors to claim a discount on their insurance by acting on a phone call immediately.
They use these types of telephone scams targeting elderly to steal personal data like date of birth and social security number.
7. Siri, Alexa and Google Home Scams
This is a type of scam where scammers are getting potential victims to make a call instead of receiving a call.
How it Works
The scammer tricks virtual assistant technology such as Alexa, Siri or Google Home to provide you with fake customer support numbers. You have no idea that you are being scammed when making a call for customer service.
Scammers are successful in this type of scam because you reach out to them thinking it is the customer service number of an airline to change seats or tech support hotline from a printer company and they are ready to steal your information and money.
There are many other types of elderly phone scams including romance scams, government imposter scams, and “can you hear me?” scams where the scammer only wants a “yes” from you to use it to sign for a service that you do not know exists.
The scammers keep coming up with new ideas and ways to use phone scams, targeting seniors and the elderly.
How can we protect elderly parents and loved ones to fall victim to these scammers?
How to protect elderly from phone scams – 10 Tips
1. Never Share Personal Information on The Phone
If your bank or credit card company is asking for personal or financial information, never share anything on a phone call. Ask them for a phone number to call back and only call back after confirming the identity of the caller from your bank.
The information that you should never share on phone:
- Your home address or email address
- Date of birth and other identifying information such as full name
- Banking details, credit card numbers
- Social security number
- Your mother’s maiden name
All the above information can be used to steal your identity.
2. Register on The “do not call” Registry
Protect your older adults against telemarketers by registering their mobile and home phone numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry. Some organizations such as charities, political groups and debt collectors may still call but it is a good step to begin protecting your loved ones.
3. Set Up a Bank Account With a Spending Limit
You may be wondering how to protect elderly from phone scams because you are concerned about your loved one’s financial decision-making.
It is always a good idea to set up a small account for them at a local bank with a spending limit of a few hundred dollars. Seniors can use the debit card attached to the account for online transactions while savings are kept in a separate secure account.
4. Monitor Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
One thing you can do to protect elderly from phone scams is to help them to monitor their bank statements and credit card statements on monthly basis. They can monitor the bank accounts through an app or online banking and look for any suspicious activity or unauthorized payment. Remind them to do this regularly.
5. Never Buy Anything Over the Phone
The scammers act as telemarketers to sell you products or services. Tell telemarketers that you do not buy anything on phone. Purchasing things on phone involves sharing personal and financial data which is not a good idea to begin with. Stay away from telemarketing offers that sound too good to be true.
6. Donate Wisely
Do not donate by phone calls or texts. Chose trusted organizations and beware of names similar to well-known charities. Let your elderly parents know to
- Never pay by cash, payment by bank check is a safer option.
- Never write a personal check on a person’s name
- Validate the charity organizations before donating (use Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or Guide Star)
- If you signed up to donate to a charity on a monthly basis, keep a record of your donations and track them on your financial statement
Donate your money wisely so it reaches deserving people, not scammers.
7. Never Pay to Claim a Prize or Lottery Payout
Real prizes are free and you should never pay to claim your prize. Ask your seniors to never share bank account details or other personal information to get a lottery payout on phone. You can ask the caller to provide you with a number to call back and can confirm the number is legit before calling back.
8. Resist Pressure to “Act Now”
This strategy is used in phone scams targeting seniors where the scammer wants you to act now to secure a deal before you have time to think. They may pressurize you with threats such as you will be arrested or deported if you do not act now. They can ask you for personal information pretending they are calling from govt agency or a police station.
Always ask them for a phone number to call back and you will have time to think and confirm if it was not a scammer. Tell seniors to never act in hurry.
9. Don’t Answer Calls from Unrecognized Numbers
The best way to avoid elderly phone scams is by not picking up a phone call from a scammer. Tell your senior to never answer calls from unknown numbers. They can leave a voice mail with a phone number to call back. You can call back after confirming the person is not a scammer and that you know them.
Do not trust caller ID numbers as criminals can use legitimate numbers of companies through spoofing techniques.
10. Avoid Using Public WiFi
Educate older adults to never use a public WiFi hotspot to access online banking or to login banking app or share personal information through them. Public WiFi is great service but scammers can use it to break into your mobile phone. The data is usually not encrypted on public WiFi so always assume that public WiFi is not safe to use.
Report, If You Have Been a Target of a Scam
Many scams and frauds go unreported because either people are ashamed to admit that they have been scammed or they do not know how to report a scam. Do not be ashamed to report if you have been a target of a scam, it only helps scammers to target more people. Do the following things to make sure that the crime does not go unnoticed.
- Report the Scam to FTC: You can report to FTC online or via phone
- Report Identity Theft: If you think you have shared personal or financial information with a scammer, go to the Identity Theft website to report the identity theft and get a recovery plan.
- National Elder Fraud line: If you or your loved one has been a victim of elder financial fraud or scam, reach out to Nation Elder Fraud Line. They assign you a case manager and treat you with respect and understanding.
- NAPSA: National Adult Protective Services Association helps you on local levels. This nonprofit works with older adults and disabled persons if they have been victimized financially.
Let your bank know if you have a victim of financial fraud to discuss the options to protect your financial information in the future.
These are some of the elderly phone scams and tips on how to protect elderly from phone scams. The scammers keep coming up with new and sophisticated methods to target senior citizens via phone calls and texts. Tell your elderly parents and loved ones to never share personal or financial information with anyone over the phone to avoid these scams and report if you have been a victim of financial fraud or identity theft.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do Seniors Fall for Scams
Seniors have more savings and are less able to spot a scammer. Scammers take advantage of these two things and target seniors more than any other age group. Cognitive decline is a normal part of aging that affects thinking, memory, concertation and other brain functions making seniors more vulnerable.
What to do if your elderly parent is being scammed
If your elderly parent is being scammed, report immediately.
- Report the scam to FTC
- Reach out to National Elder Fraud Line
- Get help from NAPSA (National Adult Protective Services Association)
- Report financial fraud to your bank
Not reporting a crime only helps the scammers.
How to comfort someone who got scammed
Tell the victim that it is not their fault. Guide them to report the scam to FTC and their bank if it was a financial fraud. Remind them to take necessary steps to avoid scams in the future and not share personal and financial information with anyone.