Spotting and Avoiding Fraud and Scams Targeting Seniors

According to research by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation, adults over 65 are more likely to have lost money through a financial scam than an adult in their 40s. In addition, only 1 in 44 victims of financial fraud report the crime, often out of embarrassment or fear that their children will take control of their finances. Following are the most common ones.

Identity Theft

Identity theft happens when a scammer steals some or all of your personal information and uses it to steal money, products, or services. Personal information could include your social security number, your bank account number, your credit card account numbers, or insurance information. 

IRS Scams

The scammer makes you believe you are talking to an IRS agent and that you must comply. Most IRS scams take the form of a phone call in which the scammer tells the victim they owe money to the IRS, and they must pay the money immediately or risk arrest. 

REMEMBER, the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. The IRS will always mail a bill to anyone who owes taxes first. The IRS will also never threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers, or other law enforcement to have you arrested. These threats are common practices for thieves to create fear in victims. 

The Grandparent Scam

Grandparent scams work like this: the victim receives a phone call from someone who says they are their grandchild. This person explains they are in trouble. There’s been an accident, or an arrest, or a robbery. To increase the urgency, the caller might say they are hospitalized or stuck in a foreign country. The thief offers just enough detail to make the story seem plausible and may even give the phone to another scammer who pretends to be a doctor, police officer, or lawyer to back up the story. The “grandchild” begs the grandparent to send money or gift cards immediately. 

Computer Tech Scam

Computer technical support scams prey on older people’s assumed lack of knowledge about computers and cybersecurity. A pop-up message or blank screen usually appears on a computer or phone, telling the victim that their device is compromised and needs fixing. If the victim calls the number for help, the scammer will request remote access to their computer and insist the victim pay a charge to repair it. 

Sweepstakes or Lottery Scams

In this scam, fraudsters generally contact victims by phone 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 receive their winnings or improve the odds of winning.

Don’t Be Scammed

The above are just the most common ones. If you feel like you or a loved one has been a victim of fraud or scams, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about it with someone you trust. 

Visit the Federal Trade Commission website for more information and assistance, or contact the Colorado State Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection. 

AgeWise Colorado thanks The 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office’s “Power Against Fraud” booklet, which was the source for much of this.  AgeWise Colorado ( connect the adult children of older adults to information, education and trusted providers that enable Colorado’s seniors to thrive as they age in place and beyond!

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