It can be difficult to help your elderly loved ones get the hang of using new technology and the challenges they may face navigating the online world. Some seniors may also have cognitive impairment issues. These factors can make seniors especially ripe targets for scam artists.
Following are descriptions of some of the more common scams geared toward seniors, as well as some considerations to keep in mind to help elderly friends and family avoid becoming victims.
Many scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people who “make twice as many purchases over the phone than the national average,” according to the National Council on Aging. “They are usually very comfortable on the phone,” says Brendan E. Trudden, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in Garden City, N.Y., “which is why scammers often approach them there.”
Examples of this include:
- Perpetrators posing as Medicare representatives to get seniors to give them their personal information.
- Calls to solicit for phony charities. These often occur after natural disasters.
- Someone calling and claiming to be speaking on behalf of a relative (some scammers even try to impersonate the relative) who is in trouble and needs money. A common scenario, Trudden says, “is someone calling to say a grandchild has been arrested and needs bail money wired immediately. [The caller] may stress the grandchild doesn’t want his or her parents to know.”
“Elderly people are more likely to fall for scams that prey on their emotions and suggest that there’s an emergency,” Trudden continues. With no face-to-face interaction and no paper trail, these scams are extremely difficult to trace.
Unfamiliarity with browsing the web—not to mention concepts like firewalls and virus protection—may make the elderly especially susceptible to online scams, including:
- Email/phishing This occurs when an individual receives email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution such as the IRS asking him or her to “update” or “verify” personal information.
- Investment schemes. Scammers know seniors want to protect their money for their later years, so they approach them with everything from pyramid schemes to tales of a Nigerian prince looking for a partner to claim inheritance money. Seniors’ email accounts can be easier to hack, notes Trudden, and scammers know that requesting less than $10,000 may not raise any flags at financial institutions.
In a common mail scam, criminals inform their victims that he or she has won a sweepstakes and need to make a payment to unlock the supposed prize. The scammers might even include a check for the victim to deposit in his or her bank account, knowing that it will take a few days before the (fake) check is rejected. During that time, the funds will appear so that they can collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize.
Scammers also may create fake charities to which seniors are encouraged to donate. A mailbox full of charitable donation requests is a red flag that your elderly friends and family are susceptible to—and may have already given money to—fake charities.
How to help
Over the phone. Another option that may be appropriate for seniors is letting unrecognized phone numbers go directly to voicemail. If someone does get through asking for financial information, Trudden says to have your parent ask for the caller’s number and say that he or she must call the person back. For cell phones, you may want to consider checking with your wireless carrier to see if they offer call blocking features.
Monitor the mail. If you live nearby, Trudden says, “sit down with them once a week and go through their mail with them, write checks together, and weed out questionable mail.” Otherwise, you might ask a trusted friend or an elder care provider to help.
Suggest a limit on charitable giving. If it’s always been important to them, you may not want to stop charitable donations entirely. But, you can help them create a giving plan to their causes of choice.
Monitor financial accounts. “Seniors tend to open accounts with numerous financial institutions over the years,” Trudden says. “Consolidating the accounts can make life much easier.”
In addition, review bank and credit card statements and ask about questionable payments. “Credit cards like American Express offer you a lot of protection against bogus charges,” Trudden says. In addition, apps like Mint allow you to keep tabs on their finances right from your smartphone.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.