Financial fraud targeting older Americans is a growing epidemic that costs seniors an estimated $2.9 billion annually according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). This estimate is likely low as often seniors do not report fraud because they are too ashamed to admit they have been scammed, may not even know that they are victims, or do not know how to report it.
In the ongoing efforts to protect seniors from internet and telephone scams, the US Senate Special Committee on Aging (Aging Committee) has taken a keen interest in helping protect seniors from internet and telephone scams.
Here are some friendly reminders on how to avoid scams. The following tips from the Aging Committee are reminders that help older adults identify general scams:
• Con artists force you to make decisions fast and may threaten you.
• Con artists disguise their real number, using fake caller IDs.
• Con artists sometimes pretend to be the government (e.g. IRS).
• Con artists try to get you to provide them personal information like your Social Security number or account numbers.
• Before giving out your card number or money, please ask a friend or family member about it.
• Beware of free travel offers.
Source: Tips from United States Senate Special Committee on Aging for Avoiding Scams, 2018 Fraud Book.
Here are a few of the more common scams that target older adults:
- The IRS Impersonation Scam: The most common scam targeting older adults in 2017, according to the Aging Committee, is the IRS impersonation scam. In this scam, a caller claims to be from the IRS and claims that the person owes taxes and/or penalties to the government that are payable immediately. The caller then attempts to secure payment from the victim to clear the alleged outstanding debt.
- Can You Hear Me Scam: In this scam, the caller (or robocaller) asks the person answering the phone “can you hear me?” or “are you there?” The goal is to get the person to respond “yes.” The scammer records the “yes” answer and then attempts to use it as a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges or billings.
- Grandparent Scam: A common scam that specifically targets older Americans is the “grandparent scam.” Imposters either pretend to be the victim’s grandchild, claim to be holding the victims’ grandchild hostage, or trying to help the grandchild out of a desperate situation. The perpetrator typically claims the grandchild is in trouble and needs money to help with an emergency, such as getting out of jail, paying a bill (hospital bill is a common one), or to come home from a foreign country. The caller targets the grandparent specifically because they claim the grandchild does not want to involve their child’s parent(s) to avoid getting in trouble. They urge the grandparent to keep it a secret to make the ruse more believable.
If you or someone you know is the victim of a scam or fraud attempt, please call the Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470. The Aging Committee’s Fraud Book is a great resource and includes additional numbers for consumers to call to report fraud to their state jurisdictions as well as other federal agencies.