Swindles come in all shapes and sizes – they can be massive or minuscule, hi-tech, or basic. They can originate from a knock on the front door or an identity listing on the dark web. No matter what the method, malicious fraudsters behind scams have one thing in common. They want to steal their targets money or identity, all while avoiding being caught!
In addition to cash, the most highly sought-after items include personal data such as your bank account number, credit card information, driver’s license, investment accounts, contact information and, Social Security number. Last year the top frauds reported were victims scammed by individuals pretending to be from a familiar business, the government, or a supposed romantic interest. The more you learn about the types of scams out there, the less likely you will fall for a scammer’s mischievous antics.
There are hundreds of different scams occurring every day, so it would be impossible for you to know about all of them. If you sign up to receive biweekly scam alerts from MyFraudAlerts.com – a list of the most current scams will come directly to you via email or text. Below is a list of some of the more common scams you and your loved ones should look out for going forward.
- Anti-Aging Product Scam: Lotions and potions to help you look younger is BIG business. Unfortunately, many scammers offer products that have absolutely no anti-aging remedy whatsoever. Whether it’s bogus homeopathic therapies or fake Botox scam like the one that earned its distributors millions of dollars in barely a year (before they were ultimately convicted and jailed), there is plenty of dough in the anti-aging business.
- Charity Scam: Every time there’s a horrible natural disaster somewhere in the world, despicable fraudsters are the first to send emails that pull your heartstrings to articulate how important it is for you to support the disaster victims financially. These scams can be very intricate, with scammers even going to the length of inventing fake organizations (imitating real ones) to con empathetic donors.
- Counterfeit Prescription Drugs Scam: As prices for prescription drugs continue to increase, seniors, and their caregivers, scour the web to find less expensive options for their medications. Scammers are privy to this and have consequently created websites that advertise cheap prescription drugs, which unfortunately are frequently counterfeit.
- Foreclosure Relief Scam: The goal of a foreclosure scam is to attempt to take (steal) your money or your house. These scams often involve a fraudster making a false promise of saving you from foreclosure. Fraudsters may ask for money in advance with the promise of a guarantee that you can get your mortgage terms changed. Do not fall for this scam – if you’re having trouble making your monthly mortgage payments, a HUD-approved housing counselor can walk you through your options for free. You can search online for a housing counseling agencynear you or call HUD’s interactive voice system at (800) 569-4287.
- Foreign Lottery Scam: I get inquiries all the time from people asking me if I think they might have won XXX million from a lottery scheme in Nigeria – UH NO! I DO NOT!!! AARP says that if you receive a letter, email, text or phone call from a foreign lottery saying, “All you have to do to collect your winnings is to wire money to the caller for taxes or a processing fee” – PLEASE save us both time and just hit delete or hang up. The reality is that foreign lotteries are illegal and besides, think about it, if you’ve never entered a foreign lottery, it’s not likely you won!
- Funeral Scam: I like to refer to this as a “trickle-down” scam – fraudsters are targeting your money after your loved one has died. In one type of funeral scheme, fraudsters use obituaries to find out information about the deceased to extort money from family members or grieving spouses. They claim the deceased has an outstanding debt that must be paid immediately. Those close to the deceased are usually in a vulnerable state and are more likely to pay the fraudulent debt.
- Gold and Silver Coin Scam: This one has been around forever, but folks are still falling for it – in droves! Up pops an ad on your TV or computer describing the “impending recession” that details how valuable investing in gold and silver coins is during unpredictable times. Although, in some cases, it might be true that these coins are valuable – in this case, the coins are being sold at a 300-500% markup, and you’ll undoubtedly lose money upon purchase.
- Grandparent Scam: A scammer calls your aging loved one pretending to be their grandson or granddaughter. They tell the victim they had their wallet stolen, were arrested for drunken driving, or are in some other kind financial trouble, and they need you to wire them money ASAP. This scam is particularly devious because it plays on older adult’s emotions. In most cases, the fraudster will ask the grandparent not to tell anyone about the money exchange and will continue to contact them and ask them to send more money.
PRO TIP: Grandparent scammers may have gotten your grandson’s name from social media, or they wait for you to say, “Is this Joey?” and then they continue the ruse. A fraudster might ask you if you know who is calling, and when you guess the name of one of your grandchildren, they pretend to be that person.
- Imposter Scam: Imposter scammers try to convince you to send money by pretending to be someone, normally of authority, that you know or trust like a sheriff, local, state, or federal government employee, or charity organizer. Remember, caller ID can be faked. If you feel suspicious, you should always call the organization or government agency and ask if the person works for them, and if they are trying to raise funds, before giving any money.
- Investment Scam: Fraudsters will often tell an older adult that if they invest money in a particular scheme, they will earn very high returns with minimal financial risk. You know the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true – it probably IS!” Many older fraud victims say that they didn’t expect to live so long. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Well, my Dad died of a heart attack when he was 52, so I just figured the same scenario was inevitable for me.” If your aging loved one is concerned about their finances, stay alert as their desperation to create another line of income might make them more susceptible to investment fraud.
- Intimidation Scam: Scammers threaten you with violence, a lawsuit, or even arrest over supposed missed payments; you’re told to pay immediately to avoid a fake court summons and subsequent incarceration. Next, the scammer lets you know that “conveniently enough,” they can accept credit cards or cash right there on the spot. Sometimes the fraudster will come right to your aging loved one’s door – and as you can imagine, that can be frightening. It’s common for crooks to use Facebook and other online sites to collect personal information about you and your family to make their threats seem real. The lesson here is to limit what you post online.
PRO TIP: Whatever you do, don’t underestimate a scammer – they are studying you and your loved ones and are coming for you armed with as much information as they can glean from any of your public profiles. AARP reports that those entertaining Facebook quizzes may seem like harmless fun, but the Better Business Bureau and digital-security companies warn that swindlers sometimes use quizzes to capture your personal data. Launching a quiz app may give its creators permission to pull information from your profile, offering hackers an entrée to steal your online identity. They also say to look out for “innocent-sounding” queries about your first car or high school mascot. Con artists know these are common security questions that banks and financial firms use to protect your accounts.
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Scam: Fraudsters will send you a message through email, snail mail, text, or call you in an attempt to gain access to your tax or banking information to steal your identity and money. I feel confident you know this – however, it bears repeating – the IRS will never call you to demand immediate payment or discuss taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. Some scammers send fake letters to try and trick taxpayers, hoping that folks will take the bait – so be careful on that front as well. If you’re not sure if a letter you received is legitimate, you can always call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040.
PRO TIPS: Below are seven tips to help you spot whether an IRS letter is authentic or fake. A legitimate IRS letter will:
- Generally arrive in a government envelope and will include the IRS seal on the notice or letter.
- Include a letter or notice number, most commonly found at the top right-hand corner.
- Typically contain your truncated tax ID or Social Security number and note the tax year(s) on the top right-hand corner.
- State the IRS contact information – usually, a 1-800 number found at the top of the letter near your identifying information.
- Include supplementary information about your rights as a taxpayer, such as explaining your appeal rights and other options.
- Not threaten to arrest or deport you.
- Note your payment options, such as how to pay an outstanding balance.
- Job Scam: This scam scenario may not be common with your aging loved ones since they are retired in many cases. That being said, it is a very prevalent scam, so I do want to make you aware of it just in case. Con artists trying to take advantage of job seekers have been posting bogus job offers on various employment websites. A scammer’s goal might be to collect confidential information to use for identity theft, tempt you to pay for services or supplies you don’t need, or try to get you to cash fraudulent checks or wire and send money. The scammer may also use or sell the personal information you provided in your job application.
- Medicare Scam: Fraudsters will pose as Medicare representatives to get seniors to give them their personal information, including their Medicare ID or Social Security number. The scammer will use this information to bill Medicare for fake services and then pocket the money. These scammers also may use the information to visit a doctor or go to the hospital if they have no insurance. This scenario can be extremely scary, especially if their medical conditions are intermingled with yours in your chart. I had a client who had a stroke and was admitted to the hospital – her chart said (erroneously) that she had severe hypertension, and she was therefore given a significant dose of high blood pressure (BP) medicine. It turned out someone with severe hypertension had stolen her Medicare credentials and was being prescribed a very high dose of BP medicine in her name.
- Mortgage Scam: Older adults who own their homes are often considered to be very valuable targets for scammers. An imposter might send an official-looking, yet fraudulent, letter to a homeowner that details the assessed value of their home (information that is easily gleaned from the area property tax commission). Fraudsters let the homeowner know that, for a fee, the value of their home can be reassessed. Scammers might also approach your aging loved one offering home repairs and coerce them to take out equity to use as payment for the repairs.
- Online Romance Scam: Older adults need to be super cautious when they are looking for love online. Just last year in the United States, more than 27,000 consumers filed a report with the FTC about romance scams – most “sweetheart” scams go unreported due to embarrassment. This type of fraud not only positions your aging loved to lose money…their heart can be stolen as well! Criminals often create fake profiles on social media and dating sites in an attempt to find a match and convince your aging loved one to help them financially. The fraudster is routinely someone posing as a doctor or military officer, stationed far away, who just needs money to come to see them but ‘lo and behold’ they never show up at the airport.
- Social Security Scam: Individuals pose as benefits investigators claiming there is a problem with your Social Security account. At times, they will tell you your Social Security number has been suspended and give you a false number to call in order to “resolve” the issue. When you call them back, what’s the first thing that happens? For “security reasons,” the fraudster asks you, or your aging loved one, for your name, date of birth, and the Social Security number that was referenced in the message. Once provided, they now have all the information needed to connect the dots and promptly steal your identity.
PRO TIP: The Social Security Administration (SSA) suggests you create a my Social Security account to help you keep track of your records and identify any suspicious activity. SSA says it does not track data on the prevalence of identity theft. Still, they advise the public that the best way to avoid problems is to create an account to “take away the risk of someone else trying to create one in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.”
- Sweepstakes Scam: This scheme usually involves a fraudster contacting an older victim either by mail or telephone and informing them that they have won a prize of some sort but must pay a fee to obtain the award. Scammers send a fake check to the senior to deposit in their bank account, knowing it will take some time for the bank to reject the check. Meanwhile, the victim has sent the scammer money through wire transfer for fees or “taxes” on the prize.
- Tech Support Scam: You or your aging loved one gets a call or a popup warning that your computer has a virus. You are then told that if you will hand over remote access to your computer the person on the other end can fix the problem. Afraid of the consequences of inaction, many older adults allow the con to take remote control of their computer, at which point the scammer actually does install a menacing virus and charges them to remove it, or they will convince them to purchase a computer maintenance program that is worthless!
- Travel Scam: Many older adults dream of spending their retirement years traveling for weeks on end. Your loved one receives a solicitation saying they can enjoy steep discounts on travel to many parts of the world by joining a travel club if they just pay a fixed fee (that is often in the thousands of dollars). Unfortunately, the senior finds out later that the discounted fares for cruises and other travel were either not as low as represented or even worse, not available at all.