Elderly Scams: Top 10 Online Scams Targeting Seniors

According to Consumer Affairs, more than 3.4 million seniors are victims of financial scams each year suffering more than $3 billion in loss. Seniors suffer an average loss of $34,200 when targeted by scammers.

The scammers use the internet and phone calls for most of these scams and older adults are more vulnerable as compared to other age groups.

Related Article: 7 Common elderly phone scams & 10 ways to protect seniors

Elderly victims report higher financial losses than younger age groups.

Seniors(60 years & older) suffer higher financial loss in scams

Let us discuss

  • 7 Reasons Elderly are an Easy Target for Online Scammers
  • Top 10 Online Scams Targeting Seniors
  • 5 Ways to Report if You are Target of an Online Scam

7 Reasons Elderly are an Easy Target for Online Scammers

Here are the top 7 reasons why scammers and con artists are successful in scamming the elderly online.

1. Seniors Are Wealthier

Scammers believe older adults have more savings and money in the bank and fewer liabilities. They are not paying students loans or mortgages. so scammers go after older adults. As the above numbers suggest financial loss by age group is highest among seniors.

2. Seniors are Less Tech Savvy

Sometimes seniors buy stuff from fake e-commerce stores. Scammers use famous brands-like domain names and email addresses to target older adults. Seniors fall for the scams thinking it’s a famous brand and they are getting a great deal or discounted offer.

Read More: Why elderly struggle with technology?

3. The Elderly are Less Likely to Spot an Online Scam

Seniors are more likely to accept a Facebook friend request or reply to emails from strangers. Scammers act as their friends or family using the stolen information that they gather from online social media profiles.

They are more likely to click on a fake antivirus pop-up that claims that the computer is infected with a virus and reply to fake lottery win emails. It is not easy for the elderly to spot an online scam.

4. Pressure to “Act Now”

If a pop-up shows during browsing claiming that your computer is infected with thousands of viruses and you may lose all the data if you do not “Act Now”, it is not easy for the elderly to ignore such messages because of fear of losing the data.

The scammers take advantage of this and send emails to seniors claiming they have just won a million-dollar lottery but need to act within 24/48 hours to claim their prize.

5. Poor Decision-Making

It is natural to suffer a decline in cognitive skills as you age. The abilities such as reasoning, memory and decision-making powers are affected by aging.

Scammers take advantage of this and most of the “Grandparent Scams” happen because fraudsters are successful in convincing older adults that they are communicating with their grandchildren who are in deep trouble or emergency and need financial assistance.

6. Scammers Play with the Emotions of the Elderly

Scammers act as their lost family member or an old friend who is in trouble and need financial assistance. They may contact seniors after a tragic event or a natural disaster (such as a hurricane) or during holidays (when people donate the most) and imitate a real charity to gain the trust and scam the elderly.

The victim thinks that he/ she is doing an act of kindness by donating but the money ends up in the scammer’s hands.

7. Seniors are More Trusting

Another reason for the elderly scams is the fact that seniors tend to be more trusting. They grew up in times when you could take a person at his/ her words and deals were made through handshakes without any written agreement or contracts.

Scammers target the senior’s trusting nature and imitate a real charity or act homeless or even your old friend or a lost family member to win your trust. Most scammers are successful in scamming the elderly online because they win their trust.

Top 10 Online Scams Targeting Seniors

1. Romance Scams

According to a recent survey by Choice Mutual, 20% of seniors have dated online on dating apps and websites (13%) and through social media sites (7%). Increasing numbers of older adults are exploring online dating through dating apps (Tinder, Match, Hinge, Plenty of Fish, Bumble, eHarmoney) and social media networks (Facebook, Instagram etc).

Many of these seniors, searching for love, end up getting scammed online.

How Romance Scammers Work

A romance scammer creates a fake profile on dating sites and apps or social media platforms and reaches out to seniors to develop a relationship through messaging on the platform, emails or chatting on social networks.

They win your trust and typically tell you they live far away (because they are in the military or construction field) and cannot meet in person. They will eventually ask you for money. It can be for an emergency medical situation or a plane ticket to visit you.

Here are some of the red flags when dating online.

  • Scammers generally make excuses to not meet you in person. They will say things as I work in another country or I am in the military or an international organization.
  • Scammers will gain your trust and ask you for money. Once they develop a relationship with you, they will ask you for money for an emergency situation or buy a ticket to visit you and other things.
  • The scammer will ask you to pay in a certain way. They want your money in a way that makes it hard for you to trace them and get your money back. They may ask you for gift cards (Amazon, iTunes, Google Play) or wire money (Western Union or MoneyGram) or send money through some app.
    Scammers want your money quickly and come up with excuses so you “act now” and do not have time to think.

Stop communicating with anyone who follows this pattern and never pay money or gift cards to anyone you have not met in person.

2. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

These types of scams have been around for a long time. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 148000 reports of sweepstakes, lorries and prize scams in 2021. Victims lost $255 million in one year in these types of scams. These types of scams still work because of greed and excitement.

How Lottery Scammers Work

The fraudsters and con artists contact seniors through email, a social media notification, a pop-up during online browsing or a phone call congratulating them on winning a prize or lottery.

They imitate a well-known organization to seem legit and ask you to pay some kind of taxes, fees or shipping and handling charges to claim your prize. They may ask you for your personal information and bank account details to process your prize, only to steal your information.

According to stats, 72% of lottery scam victims are 55 years and older and lost and an average of $978 to these scams.

Following are the warning signs of sweepstakes and lottery scams.

  • You get an email or social media message about winning a prize in a sweepstake you never entered or have not heard about. You can not win a lottery prize if you have not played a lottery game.
  • You are asked to pay an up-front fee, processing charges or tax to claim the prize. American Association of Lotteries states that once a lottery ticket is bought, no money is required to claim your prize.
  • A lottery official never contacts you personally to claim your prize before an official claim form is submitted.

How to Protect from Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

Follow these tips to protect against Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams.

  • If you receive an email, look carefully at the sender’s email address and you can find out if the mail is from an official account.
  • Do not fall for well know names like Mega Millions, Powerball or Publishers Clearing House (PCH) sweepstakes. They will never send you a social media message or call you out of the blue to congratulate you on winning.
  • Do not ever pay an up-front fee, processing charges or any kind of tax to claim the prize.
  • Do not share bank account details of personal information to claim the prize.

Social media accounts for one-third of reported sweepstakes and lottery scams and they mainly target older adults.

3. Tech Support Scams

According to Nation Council on Aging, victims of ‘tech support scams’ lost $116 million in 2020. At least 66% of the victims were 60 years or older. These number grew rapidly in 2021 and later years.

How Tech Support Scammers Work

The fraudsters reach you via email, social media messages or an advertisement and pretend to be a computer technician. They act to be from a reputed company and claim to find a problem in your computer. They may ask you to grant them remote access to the computer for a free diagnostic test.

Once they have access to your computer, they can send a virus file to steal your personal data and bank card information. They also try to convince you to pay a fee to fix a computer problem that does not exist.

How to Protect Against Tech Support Scams

These types of elderly scams use scary language and pressurize you to “act now”. Here are some things to keep in mind

  • Do not click a pop-up window or an ad during browsing the internet that claims that your computer is infected by viruses. You may be redirected from a legitimate website and asked to call tech support that appears to be coming from a reputed name (like Microsoft).
  • Do not grant remote access to anyone pretending to be a “tech support” representative.
  • Do not reply to tech support emails. Email systems are generally not secure and emails look like they come from a credible company. These emails may have malicious links or attachments that send fake tech support alerts and if you click on them, you may get a virus file or your screen can actually freeze up to make you believe that something is wrong with the computer.
  • Do not pay anyone online to “fix” your computer. Tech support companies do not reach you for help, you contact them in case of tech assistance.

4. Anti-Aging Products Scam

The scammers use fake anti-aging products for scamming the elderly online. These types of scams work on older adults who try to look and feel younger and want a quick fix.

How Anti-Aging Scams Work

The scammers advertise fake Botox and other anti-aging products like creams and snake oils through pop-ups, emails and social media and many seniors fall for them. You pay for the products that you will never receive and even if you receive these products, they can be dangerous and may harm you.

According to Dr Thomas Perls, M.D, professor of Boston University School of Medicine
"There is no scientific proof that any commercially available product will stop or reverse aging."

How to Protect Yourself from Anti-Aging Scams

Follow these steps to protect yourself from anti-aging scams.

  • Anti-aging skincare is a scam so do not fall for creams and oils that promise instant results to make you younger. Growing older is something to be celebrated.
  • Do not fall for the claims of skincare products even if they sound scientific. Know that “No Cream can reverse aging”, according to experts.
  • Never buy any anti-aging product online. You will either not receive it or it will only further damage your skin. Contact a dermatologist if you have any questions or want to explore ways to take care of your skin.

There is enough scientific proof to know that commercially available anti-aging products are not a solution. There are many other ways to look and feel younger including a balanced diet and regular exercise.

5. The Grandparent Scams

These types of elderly scams are successful because scammers play with the emotions of seniors.

How Grandparents Scams Work

The con artists contact the seniors through emails, social media or phone and say something like “Hi grandma, guess who this is”. They try to convince the older adults using family references and names (gathered from social media profiles).

Once the scammers secure their trust, they ask seniors for money because they are in trouble and need financial assistance. Sometimes the scammer pretends to be a lawyer or police officer trying to help your fake grandchild and come up with emotional stories to make you send them money.

How to Protect Yourself from Grandparents Scams

Follow These steps to protect yourself from Grandparents Scams.

  • If you get a message or a call from someone claiming to be your grandchild or relative. Tell them that you will get back to them and talk to other family members to confirm their identity before contacting them again.
  • If anyone is trying to get you to guess who he/ she is. Tell the person to introduce themselves or hang up the phone. 
  • Scam artists prefer wire transfers so you cannot trace them. If someone requests to wire money urgently, it should be treated suspiciously.
  • The grandparent scammers may call late at night to confuse the potential victim and make the whole scenario emotional and create a sense of urgency. Do not act in a hurry and tell them you will contact them in the morning.

The grandparent scams have many versions. Some scammers show up at older adults’ homes posing as “couriers” to pick up the money.

6. Online Shopping Scams

Seniors are embracing online shopping at a rapid pace, according to the latest surveys. Scammers are taking advantage of this and online shopping is the most widely reported type of fraud among older Americans.

How Online Shopping Scams Work

Online shopping scammers use a domain name that resembles a well-known brand with a slight modification. They are successful in scamming the elderly online because they appear legitimate and offer lower prices.

They also use social media sites like Facebook and Instagram to advertise well know products at lower prices. It is not easy for seniors to decide if an online commerce site is legit. They end up buying these products which never get delivered or are drastically different from what was advertised.

How to Protect Elderly from Online Shopping Scams

Help seniors with some basic online shopping safety tips like

  • Only buy from reputed online stores. Amazon, Walmart or Target are fine but domain names with slightly different words in it are not legit.
  • Never buy a product from the Facebook page or Instagram advertisement. It is hard to tell if they are real products and not easy to return them back if they are fake.
  • If you like a product from a less-known online store, search the store name online and read other buyers reviews on third-party websites before making a purchase.  
  • If an online merchant demands payment in an unconventional way (money order or wire transfer), it is a red flag.

If you buy from authentic online stores and well-known brands, you can avoid online shopping scams. Beware of the offers and discounts that sound too good to be true.

7. Charity Scams

These types of elderly scams happen after a tragic event or major disaster such as a hurricane. The scammers also use this method during holidays when people donate more than other times.

How Charity Scams Work

Scammers try to trigger the potential victim emotionally by making lots of vague and sentimental claims. They imitate the name and material of real charity to seem legit and gain your trust. They even trick you into paying by thanking you for a donation that you never made.

There are many fake websites and these scammers use Facebook ads and other social media presence to tell you stories about families that are in trouble and need urgent assistance. These bogus organizations claim that your donation is tax-deductible and make you believe that you are doing a great act of kindness. 

How to Protect Yourself from Charity Scams

  • Validate the charity organization before donating (You can use Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and Guide Star).
  • Do not rush into making a donation. Avoid making a donation on phone call.
  • Never write a personal check or pay in cash. Payment by a bank check on the organization’s name is a safer option.
  • If you are looking for a charity to support, search for a well-known organization and read online reviews about it. To support a specific cause, you can search for something like “best homeless kids charities” or “highly rated hurricane relief”. When you consider donation write the name of the charity in search engines with words like “review”, “complaints”, and “scam” to make sure it’s a legit organization.

It is very important to donate wisely so your donations reach deserving people, not scammers.

8. Phishing Scams

Phishing is one of the oldest types of online scams and cyber criminals use many methods to steal your personal information and use it in unlawful ways in these scams.

How Phishing Scams Work

The scammer uses attractive “bait” to lure potential victims to fake websites to obtain their data. Email and other methods such as social media accounts are used in this type of internet hoax. Phishing is not the same as spam. It is a deliberate attempt to steal your personal information, online accounts password and banking information to use it in harmful ways.

How to Protect Against Phishing Scams

While scammer change their approaches and come up with several new ways to approach potential victims, here are some red flags to pay attention to

  • Emails that do not address you by your name. Do not click on the link or download a file from these emails.
  • Request to confirm personal information. Just ignore them.
  • Make sure the URL of the website that you visit starts with “HTTPS”. It means the connection to the site is protected and the information you share on the site is private.
  • Never click a link or download a file from a mail from a stranger. Mark these mails as spam and block the sender’s address.

Take care of the basic internet safety guidelines. Do not open an email from a stranger and never share your personal information online.

9. Fake Credit Cards Offers

Scammers offer you a credit card deal that is too good to be true. Credit card scams have many different versions.

How Credit Cards Scams Work

Scammer imitates a well-known credit card company (like Visa or Mastercard) and offers you a credit card with a pre-approved limit. The scammer asks you for an up-front payment for the credit card’s annual fee. You may be asked for your social security information and bank information. Such offers are complete scams and a way to steal your personal and bank account information.

In another version of this scam, you may get an email claiming that your credit card has been overcharged for a service or product. The scammer will mention the name of a service that you use (like Netflix or Spotify) or mention a product that you recently bought online. You will be asked to provide your bank account information for a proper refund.

How to Avoid Fake Credit Card Scams

You can easily identify these scams by knowing

  • A credit card company will never approach you online and offer you a credit card with a massive spending limit without knowing your credit score.
  • You can always contact the company directly on a phone call to see if the offer is real.

You can easily identify and protect yourself against credit card scams if you know that credit cards are not offered online or via email without a credit score check.

10. Government Impersonator Scams

This is another way for scamming the elderly online. The scammer pretends to represent a government agency and wants your information or payment and threatens you if you do not “cooperate”.

How Government Impersonator Scams Work

The scammers make you believe that they are contacting you from government departments like Social Security Administration, IRS or Medicare and ask you for personal information or payment. They pressurize you to provide the information or make a payment and threaten you with the consequences.

They might give you an employee ID number to sound official and may have some information about you like your name and address. You will be contacted through email or a phone call.

The scammers may tell you that they are from IRS and you owe taxes that you need to pay immediately or face an arrest or you will be deported. They may act as Medicare agents and ask you Medicare number to get you a new Medicare card. You may get a social media message saying it is from Social Security Administration and telling you that your social security benefit will end or your social security number will be suspended if you do not pay immediately.

How to Protect Against Government Impersonator Scams

There are many versions of these scams, here are key points to keep in your mind to avoid these scams

  • Do not pay anyone who says they are with the government. No one from the government agency will demand you to wire money or pay with gift cards.
  • Do not click on links in unexpected emails. These emails look like they are from a government agency but they are designed to steal your personal information and money.
  • The Social Security Administration will not threaten to suspend your social security number. They will never contact you through social media or email.
  • The IRS will contact you by mail if you owe taxes and the private debt collectors can only call you on behalf of the IRS after you have two letters in the mail (from IRS and debt collector) about your debt.

Do not reply or forward an email or social media message from IRS, Medicare or other government agencies. You can always contact them directly via official phone numbers.

These are the top 10 scams targeting seniors online. Scammers always come up with new ways and methods of scamming the elderly online.

You can avoid these elderly scams by following the basic online safety rules including

  • Do not share personal/ bank account information online
  • Do not reply to an unexpected email or click on a link sent by a stranger or download an attachment file from someone you do not know
  • Chose trusted brands for online shopping
  • Donate wisely to trusted organizations
  • Never send money to someone online if you have not met them or know them
  • Ignore the offers and discounts that sound too good to be true

These are basic rules for online safety.

5 Ways to Report If You are Target of an Online Scam

Many scams go unreported because the elderly do not know how to report or feel ashamed to admit that they have been scammed. If you are a victim of an online scam, do the followings.

  1. Report to FTC: Report the scam online or via phone
  2. Report to your state attorney general
  3. Report to National Elder Fraud line: If you or your senior loved one is a victim of a crime, contact the National Elder Fraud line. They treat you with respect and assign you a case manager.
  4. Report to NAPSA: National Adult Protective Services Association is a nonprofit that helps you on local levels. This nonprofit works with seniors and disabled persons if they have been victimized financially.
  5. Report to Your Bank: Report to your bank if you are a victim of financial fraud and discuss options to protect your financial information and avoid financial frauds in the future.

Never feel ashamed of reporting a scam. It only helps the scammers and gives them the confidence to target others.

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