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9 Phone Scams Targeting the Elderly

September 26, 2019

Telemarketing scams are one of the most common cons targeting the elderly. With no face-to-face interaction and charades of being an authority figure, scammers attempt to hook seniors with phony offers and urgent requests. REMEMBER: legitimate financial institutions and agencies such as the IRS will never ask for personal information over the phone. Learning about these schemes can act as your first defense against the most common swindles.

Here are the 9 most common phone scams targeting the elderly:

  1. Computer Support Scams. Tech or computer support scams tend to be the most successful. In some versions, senior citizens get a call from someone who promises to do tech support on their computers/devices or to clear their computers of viruses, malware and the like. To sweeten the pot, scammers may offer this so-called service at a senior-citizen discount. Later, the scammers do rudimentary work such as installing free security programs, and it is possible that seniors never realize they have been scammed. In other versions, scammers use internet ads to entice senior citizens to contact them for help. The primary aim of many scammers doing tech or computer support schemes is to get access to bank account passwords and other sensitive financial information. Because they pose as tech support personnel, they may get permission to link their computer with the victim’s. Sometimes, the scam turns mean immediately when a scammer locks the victim out of his or her computer until a fee is paid. Disengaging from the scammer and restarting your computer may solve the issue sometimes.
  2. The Fake Accident Scenario. Scammers will call saying that someone related to or known by the victim has been injured and is currently in the hospital requiring money to be sent immediately. The scammer often pressures the victim to send the money before verifying the validity of the injury and relation to the person who is injured. Another con artist is often involved to act as the police officer, doctor, or lawyer at the scene of the “accident.”
  3. The Pigeon Drop. Basically a pigeon drop can be distilled to when a “suspect offers a larger sum of money to the victim in exchange for a smaller sum of money.” If someone contacts you saying that he or she recently inherited money from an uncle but needs a smaller amount of money from you to transfer the inheritance, this could be an example of a pigeon drop. You would be promised something like half of the inheritance.
  4. Robocalls. Now accounting for 60% of all calls people receive, pre-recorded robocalls can have malicious intent. Some can try to get the victim to say, “Yes.” Questions such as, “Are you there?” tend to prompt this answer, and scammers who have someone’s “yes” reply recorded may be able to use that voice signature to put charges on credit cards and the like. Apps such as Hiya and Truecaller can help protect you against robocalls.
  5. Charity Scams. These scams are unfortunate as they prey on the goodwill of others. Scammers either call or approach an elderly individual in person, saying they are looking for donations to a worthy cause. In reality, the perpetrators have nothing to do with the charity or cause and are looking to take the victim’s money for their own gain. Sometimes the goal is to steal the victim’s identity as well. Charity scams tend to happen most after natural disasters on the international level like a major hurricane or on a local level like helping to fund local firefighters.
  6. Fake Prize Scams. Thousands of seniors are tricked into believing that they won a large sum of money but are told that they have to wire money in “taxes and fees” or to free the grand prize up from customs officials. After going through with this and receiving a check that doesn’t clear, the victim realizes that he or she has been scammed. Unfortunately, once people fall for this scam, they are at higher risk for getting more lottery and fake-prize scam calls, emails and offers. Astonishingly, a scammer may even call the victims and claim to be a police officer or detective investigating possible lottery and fake-prize scamming. In order to investigate, the detective needs to know the victim’s financial information. On it goes. According to the U.S. Attorney General and the Solicitor General of Canada, this mass-marketing fraud takes about $1 billion a year!
  7. The Grandparent Scam. This scam usually entails a perpetrator calling or emailing seniors pretending to be a family member in trouble or an authoritative person representing the relative (a lawyer, for example). The “relative” then asks for money to be wired to him or her to pay rent, lawyer fees, medical bills, or some other fake expense. The victim is often asked to not tell anyone, such as other family members, because the caller wants to keep the problem on the down-low. The older adult never hears from this “relative” again and is out of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Variations on this scheme have scammers contacting seniors through online dating sites or social media platforms such as Facebook. A senior has a legitimate profile or account and engages in correspondence with a scammer who builds trust and perhaps romantic interest. When the request for money comes after an “emergency,” the senior is all too happy to indulge.
  8. Investment Schemes. Con artists know that seniors may have planned for retirement for years. So, scammers take advantage of retirees by acting as financial advisors to gain access to their savings and account funds. Once they get the information they need for access, they take the money and run. Another type of investment scheme entails the scammer taking advantage of the senior citizen’s religious affiliation or other essential part of his or her identity. For example, for just $500, the senior citizen could invest in an illustrated Bible for children and earn part of the royalties. Investment schemes can also be about property and timeshare deals. They often use a sense of urgency and/or the promise of free gifts. If you have only a few hours to make an investment decision and can’t call anyone about it, it’s probably a scam.
  9. IRS Impostor Scams. One of the most common scams is when someone pretends to be an IRS agent. This can happen over the phone, email, mail, and in person. So-called IRS agents say that you owe taxes and demand that you pay immediately or face consequences such as jail time or hefty fines. In many cases, they say that the IRS has contacted you via mail or email already and never heard back, hence the need for dire measures now. In some cases, they’ll instead say you are owed a tax refund. In both scenarios, the goal is to get your credit card numbers or other financial information, and sometimes, money transfers. If this happens via phone, hang up. If you think the contact could be valid, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 to ensure you are speaking with someone legitimate.

Scammers who prey on the elderly rely on two key assumptions: that seniors are unfamiliar with modern technology and that they are unaware of all the different ways to have their personal information stolen. Now that you know their most common tactics, you won’t be caught off guard.