An older adult man sits on a couch in his living room. He smiles at the camera and appears relaxed.

The senior population is vulnerable to scams — the FBI reported that in 2021, people aged 60 and over reported losses of $1.7 billion to the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Scammers use technology, fear, and misinformation to take advantage of older adults who may not be on guard and watching for these scams. It’s important to be aware of various kinds of scams so you can protect your personal information and money. Here are six common scams directed at seniors. When you can spot them, you can avoid them.

Tech support fraud directed at seniors

According to the FBI’s Elder Fraud Report, this type of scam is one of the most common forms of fraud affecting people over 60. People in this age group reported almost $238 million in losses to tech fraud in 2021. These types of scams may look a little different each time, but a common method is that a person receives an email from the scammer pretending to be a common technology company or store chain that sells electroncis. They offer to fix issues that don’t actually exist in an effort to get access to the intended victim’s personal information. 

An example of this fraud is that the scammer says the intended victim has a renewal for a service that is pending, and they will be charged a large amount of money if they do not contact the scammer to stop the renewal or get a refund. When the person contacts the scammer to solve the issue, the scammer may either ask the person to download software that grants the scammer remote access to their computer or may ask for the person to verify their bank account information so the scammer can “process the refund.” 

When a scammer gains remote access to your computer or learns your banking information, they can steal your personal information and money. If you have been a victim of this type of fraud, you can file a complaint with the IC3. Having certain information about the scam will help file your complaint, such as the websites, phone numbers, email addresses, or any numbers you have called associated with the scam. You can also copy and paste the email into the complaint. If you’re a victim of this type of fraud, you should also contact the banking institutions where you hold the account(s) with the account details you gave to the scammer.

Confidence fraud (also known as romance fraud)

This type of scam is called confidence or romance fraud because the scammer manipulates the attempted victim’s emotions to steal money. Here are some common types of fraud that have impacted people over 60 in 2021:

  • Grandparent scams directed at seniors. A scammer pretends to be a family member, such as a grandchild, niece, or nephew. They act as if they are in an emergency and need to borrow money immediately. The person sends money to the scammer, not realizing they are criminals.
  • Investment scams directed at seniors. A scammer establishes a relationship with a potential victim online, often through a social media platform. The scammer tells the person that there is a big investment opportunity, commonly in cryptocurrency. If the scam works, the person “invests money,” and when they try to withdraw some, the scammer creates fake reasons why it’s not possible to do at that moment. People aged 60 and over lost $123 million to investment scams like this in 2021, according to the IC3.
  • Romance fraud. A scammer pretends to be someone online to gain the confidence or affection of the victim. They may pretend to be overseas or otherwise unavailable to avoid meeting in person. After the scammer establishes a relationship with the victim, they will ask for money. 

At first, it may be tricky to recognize this type of fraud because the scammers are good at acting and seem believable. If you are a victim of this type of fraud, contact the financial institution where you hold accounts that have been compromised. You can also file a complaint with the IC3.

COVID-19 scams directed at seniors

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and public information about the pandemic evolved, the number of scams related to the disease increased. For example, when information about new variants becomes publicly available, scammers began to circle the waters. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General is working to keep the public aware of COVID-19 scams and help victims report the attempt if targeted. Examples of common COVID-19 scams include:

  • Free at-home COVID-19 testing supplies
  • Requests for your participation in a COVID-19 survey in exchange for a promise that you can win money or a prize 
  • Fake vaccination cards 
  • Establishing fake testing sites to collect the senior’s personal identifying information, bank information, or credit card information
  • Unauthorized charities claim to be collecting money for COVID-19 relief.

These red flags indicate the offer is a scam. Information about COVID-19 is always changing, but remember that vaccines are available for free. No one will call and request your bank account or credit card details or money from you for vaccines or treatment related to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can report COVID-19 scams here.

Government agency, tax, or health insurance scams

Scammers will pretend to represent government agencies to collect personal information from seniors. You might get a seemingly innocent phone call from someone claiming to be from Medicaid, the Social Security Administration, and even the IRS. Technology has become so sophisticated that scammers can disguise their phone numbers and make it look like they are contacting you from an official office.

It is important to protect yourself from these kinds of scams. You could lose money or have your credit affected if the scammers take out loans in your name and rack up credit card debt. 

Red flags to look for to recognize a government agency, tax, or health insurance scam include:

  • The caller claims your Medicaid benefits will end if you do not immediately give them your personal information over the phone, such as your Social Security number and PIN number.
  • The caller threatens that you will be arrested if you do not make a payment on a debt by the end of the business day.
  • You are asked to pay with a specific form of payment. For example, a caller claims to work for the IRS and says that you have a tax debt that must be paid immediately, but the bill can only be paid over the phone with a credit card. The IRS accepts various forms of payments if there is a legitimate debt.
  • Medicaid can take your house unless you pay a large fine immediately.

If you have fallen victim to a scam that involves Medicaid, Social Security, or the IRS, you have options. Be sure to report the fraud to your bank or credit card company. Those institutions may refund the payment if they determine that it was fraudulent. You can also fraud file a claim with the Federal Trade Commission and also file a claim reporting fraud with each agency separately (Medicaid, Social Security, IRS). Filing a report may help you prove to your financial institution that the charge or loan taken out in your name was fraudulent.

Robocalls and identity theft

A robocall is an automated call typically from a salesperson or telemarketer, but scammers may be on the other side of the phone. One red flag is if the caller claims a company has filed a lawsuit against you, and you must pay a fine immediately. This tactic is tricky because the caller may claim to be a debt collector for a business that you owed money to in the past or one to whom you currently owe a debt. Watch out for anyone claiming you must make a payment while you are on the line. 

When you answer the phone, you may be asked, “Can you hear me?” or “Is this Jane Smith?” or another binary question. The scammer wants you to answer yes or no because they are recording your answer to use your voice to authorize transactions over the phone. How many times have you dealt with a legitimate business representative who asked you to confirm a payment authorization? Scammers want to collect a sample of your voice saying “yes” to authorizing transactions in your name.

If you are the victim of a robocall identity theft scam, you can report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission. You can screen robocalls by placing your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry.

Sweepstakes, lottery, and contest scams

These scams have stood the test of time; unfortunately, seniors frequently fall victim to them. A scammer will call you and tell you that they have great news. You just won a big prize! All you have to do is pay a “processing fee” to collect your prize. The caller will then ask for your credit card details. The scammers will use this information to steal money from you. This scam is dangerous because you may not realize that they have used your credit card until you review your statement at the end of the month, so they could potentially max out your card before you find out they stole your information.

If you have gotten your credit card information stolen, you should contact your credit card issuer immediately to report the charges as fraud and try to get your money back. Stealing someone’s credit card information is a crime. File a police report if this happens to you.

Avoiding scams

If an older adult lives alone and doesn’t have another person at home to discuss these suspicious acts with, it may be more of a challenge to spot these types of scams. But, there are a few steps a person can take, regardless of their living situation, that can help keep their money and information safe. As many of these common scams involve technology, you can follow these steps when you’re using the phone, computer, or internet:

  • If you’ve only met someone online, do not send them money or invest with them.
  • Don’t give your banking information, Social Security Number, or other personal information to anyone online or over the phone if you are not sure they are trustworthy and legitimate.
  • Be wary of people and opportunities that require you to “act fast.”
  • Consider installing reputable ad-blocking and antivirus software on your computer.
  • Do not give people you do not know remote access to your computer.
  • Do not open email attachments from people you do not know.