As our parents and grandparents age, the risk of them falling prey to certain telephone scams increase. It’s a sad fact, but one that we must educate ourselves and our loved ones on, to prevent them falling victim to such scammers.
Phone calls are still the number one way scammers attempt to steal money. And let’s face it, our older generations are more comfortable speaking over the phone than younger generations.
According to the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, in 2021 alone, there was a total of 644,048 phone call scams reported, resulting in $692 million dollars lost. Most reported frauds belonged to the 60-69 age range.
So, what are some current telephone scams that target the elderly?
The Grandparent Scam
One of the dirtiest tricks is the grandparent scam.
Grandparents are known to spoil their grandkids and have a tough time saying no to them. So, of course, when a grandchild calls with an emergency, most grandparents will rush to the rescue!
Scammers will sort through social media sites, collecting any quick personal information they can use on their target and the target’s family.
This allows them to be more convincing when they call to impersonate someone’s grandchild. They will put on a show, acting as if they are in some dire situation that requires immediate help in the form of money.
They may claim to of been in a car accident, to have been arrested and need bail, or they’ve been mugged and need money. The story just needs to sound real, frantic, and constricted on time.
Using this fabricated emergency, add in some details you would only expect a family member to know, and this has the potential to sound completely convincing, especially in the moment.
These scammers can also have an accomplice close by, posing as a police officer, doctor, or lawyer, further adding credibility.
The “grandchild” will insist on needing money to resolve the emergency, either by a wire transfer, money app, or by showing up at the victim’s house!
- Avoid phone calls from suspicious numbers. Let it go to voicemail.
- They will likely beg the victim to not tell anyone about this emergency, especially their supposed parents, so always make sure to call a family member to verify where the “grandchild” is.
- Ask them to further provide proof they are who they say they are by asking questions only they would know and that can’t be found on social media.
- Calls will likely happen at night to further confuse the victims.
- If you believe you are talking with one of these scammers, hang up the phone and notify your local authorities immediately.
When people reach retirement age, they are more likely to be targeted by investment scams.
These scammers dedicate a lot of time cold-calling and intend to keep the potential “investor” on the phone for as long as it takes.
They will go through great lengths to seem professional and knowledgeable. Many will have back up in the form of legitimate looking websites to appear more credible.
The “investment” they are trying to sell you on can range from investing in stocks or cryptocurrencies, to investing in a vacation home. Whatever their preferred investment opportunity, they will make it sound enticing with the promise of a great return and low to no risk.
This investment opportunity will be time sensitive; the scammer will try coercing you to pursue the investment within a short amount of time.
They will ask you to keep this investment a secret, claiming they are only offering it to you or a small number of people.
- Ask questions and investigate. Never take anyone for their word; research the individual and the company.
- Do not rush. If someone is claiming to have an investment opportunity that is only available for a brief time, be extremely cautious.
- Talk with trusted family members about the potential opportunity. They may be able to help you discern if it is authentic or not.
- Follow one of the golden rules, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- You can check with the Financial Conduct Authority Warning List, a resource that can aide you in deciding whether you have been contacted by a scammer.
Senior citizens are likely to receive a call from someone claiming to be a Medicare or health insurance rep. These scams are responsible for both identity theft and bank theft.
Scammers will attempt to call many times and could likely have some personal information on hand to sound more legitimate.
These scammers will ask you to “validate” your account information, such as social security numbers, and for Medicare holders, their Medicare number.
The claim will be that you need to validate your number to activate to your new card, or to send you a new updated card, and if you don’t, you will lose your benefits.
They may also claim that the recipient is qualified for free medical supplies or even a refund; all they need is your personal information or your bank account information to receive the offer.
- Medicare representatives will rarely be the first to call. Normally, the insurer must be the one to initiate contact.
- Never give out your social security number, Medicare number, or financial information to anyone who randomly calls. Only give your Medicare number to trusted healthcare providers.
- Medicare cards do not have an expiration date; hang up if someone calls claiming you need a new card.
- If you do receive an official new Medicare card, be sure to completely destroy your old card.
- If you believe you have been scam called, you are advised to contact Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 to report the call.
Some other telephone scams to be aware of
Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams: We all dream of winning the lottery or some grand prize, but the FTC warns that seniors are more likely to fall victim to these sorts of scams.
Scammers will call and attempt to trick you into believing you have won the lottery or sweepstakes.
The catch? You must pay or give them your bank account information to receive your winnings.
Remember, sweepstakes are free, in fact, it is illegal for a sweepstakes to take your money to increase your chances of winning. Prizes are free as well and paying any sort of fee is never required.
Charity Scams: Scammers will jump at any opportunity to take advantage of unfortunate situations such as natural disasters and other tragedies that make breaking news.
While these calls are more prevalent surrounding national tragedies, many will also claim to be fundraising to support veterans, cancer victims/research, and any other misfortune to befalls society.
The scammers will likely claim to be a well-known charity organization to sound legitimate. They will do their best to pull at the victims’ heartstrings, exploiting our desires to help those in need.
Robocalls: These calls are very common for the fact it is easy for scammers to mass dial thousands of people, making use of bots to do their dirty work.
Seniors are more likely to fall victim to these scams. This is because robocalls are more manageable with landline phones, and seniors are more known to answer calls from unknown numbers.
These bots will be equipped with different schemes that are designed to pressure you into revealing private information that can be later used for different types of fraud.
Robocalls can be easy to spot if you know what to listen for. Conversation with robocalls will be awkward; there will be odd or short responses following long pauses. The conversation will not feel or sound natural.
5 Key Takeaways From All This
- Never give any personal information over the phone unless it is a well-known and trusted source.
- Make use of Caller ID. Save all important numbers and be weary of any unfamiliar numbers, or numbers that appear only as unknown.
- Many phone scams will often use spoofed numbers, these are falsified phone numbers that can appear to be a local number, or resemble familiar phone numbers, to further convince you to answer the phone.
- Follow your gut. If a phone call feels suspicious, be safe and hang up the phone.
- If you believe to have been contacted by a scammer, you can call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-382-4357, or the FBI at 1-833-372-8311.
As always, share what you’ve learned with friends and family. We can all work together to prevent becoming victims of scammers.