A Senior’s Guide to Scammers


Have you received a spam call in the recent past? Have you opened up a website link that promised a wonderful prize? Have you received a threatening letter that said you owed money – but you were pretty sure you didn’t? These are all scams with the goal of taking your hard-earned money. And you’re not alone. A 2021 survey by Consumer Reports found that 95% of respondents had received fraudulent communication of some kind in the previous month. Almost half of Americans report getting at least six spam messages in a typical week[1]. That’s almost one a day!

Unfortunately, many of these scams target the elderly. It’s vitally important for seniors to learn to recognize scams and protect yourself so that you can keep your bank account and finances secure.

Now is a great time to note that Alert1 will never call you out of the blue. You might be contacted if you have made the great investment in a medical alert device for your peace of mind. However, if you aren’t using our emergency response solutions just yet, keep in mind that we won’t contact you to solicit your business! We’re legitimate – so that’s not how we work.

The Most Common Scams that Target Seniors

Some scams are much more common than others. Some of them you might have heard of before, and you can roll your eyes at them now – such as the Nigerian prince who is just dying to give you money, or the enormous inheritance you’re about to get from a long-lost relative you never knew. But you might be surprised by how sophisticated scams have become since that Nigerian prince last sent you an email. Here are some of the most common ones that rope individuals in on a regular basis.

1.       You Owe Money to the IRS and Could Be Arrested.

This was the most common fraud in 2020 and most victims were 50 or older, according to Consumer Reports. Someone will call or email you to say there is a problem with a financial account. They claim to be from the IRS or other government agency. You’re told that you have an unpaid debt, and it must be paid right away to avoid frozen accounts or even arrest. But wait – you must use a gift card or other unusual method of payment. Unfortunately, about $850 is the typical amount lost by those who fall for this scam, according to the FTC Consumer Sentinel Network.

How to know it’s a scam: Any legitimate business would never call about a debt, threaten to have you arrested, or ask you to pay immediately, much less via gift card. If you get a call like this, hang up. If you’re concerned about your accounts, call the IRS or other institution directly and ask them to verify that everything is fine.

2.       You Can’t Miss This Deal!

Online shopping has become quite common these days, especially since COVID-19 forced so many people to stay home. An unfortunate result is the online shopping scam where you are offered an amazing deal on a variety of items. This is usually found on websites and social media and often results in an average of $100 lost[2].

It works by offering a deal too good to pass up. You pay for the item on what looks like a legitimate site (and it very well might be). But you never get the item you paid for or even worse, you do get a package, but what’s inside is a cheap item that you never would have purchased in the first place. When you try to get your money back, the scammer has vanished.  The Better Business Bureau says this is increasingly common.

How to know it’s a scam: Examine the website for a refund policy, physical address, or phone number. Don’t click through online ads; go to the retailer’s website directly to make sure it really is what you expected to see. Often one letter difference in the URL in that ad will send you to a fake site that looks legitimate, but it isn’t.

3.       You’ve Won Something Great!

Often known as a Sweepstakes Scam, this one targets those who are aged 50 or older and often takes an average of $1,000 out of their bank account before the jig is up[3]. Generally, you will be contacted with the great news that you’ve won something, but you have to pay a fee. The scammer will often explain the fee by saying it’s for taxes on the item you’ve won. All you have to do is provide banking account or credit card information and whatever you won will be on its way to you.

You’ll be contacted in a variety of ways, including email, physical letter, telephone, text, or even through your social media account, such as by Facebook messenger.

How to know it’s a scam: No legitimate sweepstakes company will ask for financial information from you. If you actually did enter a sweepstakes and won something, it will be sent to you free of charge. If you think you might have actually won something, reach out to the sweepstakes organization directly to ask if you have.

Why the Elderly are Especially Vulnerable

The best scammers will go through a four-step process that winds up tricking someone into giving away their hard-earned money[4].

They will start by pretending to be from a legitimate organization, such as the IRS, Medicare, or the Social Security Administration. Since an older adult might often receive correspondence from these organizations, they might easily believe that a phone call or email is a legitimate one. This is especially true if the scammer is using “spoofing” to change the phone number that appears on caller ID.

Once a person believes they are talking to a legitimate organization, it becomes much easier for the scammer to do their work.

The scammer will let them know there is a problem. Maybe you owe money for a procedure, or they are calling about an overpayment of your social security or income tax refund, and you need to pay the money back. These issues might sound legitimate and set the victim up for further discussion. Scammers are well-versed in using all the right words to invoke dread.

Sometimes it will be “good news” and you’ve won a prize! Whether it’s a prize or a problem, the next step is always the same.

They will then pressure you for quick action. For instance, you can only get that prize if you give them certain information – right now! Once they hang up, the offer is gone and you will lose out on that great prize.

On the other hand, they might use tactics to frighten you, such as telling you to expect a lawsuit if you don’t pay up, that they will suspend your driver’s license, have you arrested, or even deport you. None of these threats is real.

Finally, scammers will demand that you pay in a very specific way. Perhaps they will only accept an immediate wire transfer or money on a gift card. They might send you a check to deposit and then send them the money (of course, the check will bounce). Or they might tell you they need in-depth financial information.

It’s important to remember that legitimate companies will not contact you and try any of these tactics. Even if you are working with them already – for instance, if you are receiving social security checks – they will only contact you for very real reasons and will never, ever ask you to send them money for any reason. If it’s a company that you are paying for a service – such as the affordable monthly fee for your medical alert pendant from Alert1 – the contact will always be above-board and respectful.

How to Protect Yourself from Scams

Protecting yourself from scams starts with a few very simple changes in habits. Most of these will become second nature very quickly.

·         Look at the website address before using it. For instance, if you are going to purchase something online, look for “https:” at the start of the URL. Make sure you recognize the website name. If it looks fishy at all, don’t use it. You can often make certain you have the correct site by typing it directly into the web browser instead of clicking through from another site.

·         Try not to use public computers. Public computers, such as those at libraries, can be a great idea if you are simply using them to research something. But never log into your bank account or other sensitive accounts on a public or shared computer.

·         Update your software. Your computer has a variety of security software on it, whether installed at the factory or something you can put on it yourself after you make the purchase. Keep that software updated to avoid viruses infecting your computer and putting your information at risk.

·         Pay attention to your accounts. Look at your bank accounts on a regular basis – at least a few times each week – to make sure there are no unauthorized transactions. If you see something wrong, get in touch with your bank or credit card company immediately.

·         Set up alerts. Most financial companies offer the option of alerts that will send you an email or text when something strange happens with your account. For instance, you can set an alert to notify you if a charge is made on your credit card for more than a certain amount.

·         Invest in a small shredder. Get rid of sensitive documents. Though most banking happens online these days, some of us still receive paper statements or keep deposit slips and ATM receipts. Hold onto them until you balance your checkbook and reconcile your statements, then shred them so no one can get your account information from the paperwork.

·         Check your credit report. Sometimes scamming activity will show up on your credit report. You can obtain one free credit report from each of the free credit reporting bureaus every year. You can do this at Annual Credit Report.com. (In the interest of avoiding scams, remember that this is the only legitimate site through which to order your credit reports. It’s authorized by the federal government.)

·         Screen your phone calls. Spam calls have become incredibly common these days. In fact, the number of spam calls increased by a whopping 118% between 2020 and 2021, according to a report from First Orion. An amazing 97% of individuals surveyed said they had received an unsolicited call[5]. The FTC offers advice on how to block unwanted calls or avoid unwanted text messages.

·         Never wire money. It’s nearly impossible to reverse a wire transfer or even trace where the money actually went[6]. Never wire money to strangers, anyone who claims to be a relative or close friend of one, or anyone who wants to keep the wire a secret.

·         Give to only real, established charities. After a disaster strikes, you might feel moved to give money to a charity. But this is when scammers love to strike, as they can easily step in and pull on the heartstrings to get your money. To make sure a charity is legit, plug them into Charity Navigator. If they are the real deal, go directly to the website by typing in the URL; don’t click any links to get there.

·         Stick with honest, legitimate companies. Look into the company you are considering working with to decide if they are the real deal. Look up online reviews to see what others are saying, and contact the company with any questions you might have. For instance, Alert1 has been around for many years and has decades of satisfied customers who are using our proven medical alert technology every day.

How to Report Scams

If you think you or a loved one has been the victim of a scam, report it immediately. You might not be able to get your money back, but you can help others avoid the same fate. File a complaint at EConsumer.gov, report scams to your state Attorney General, and contact the Federal Trade Commission. If the scam came through the mail, save everything you received and report the issue to the United States Postal Inspection Service.

If you provided any financial information to the scammer, alert your bank and credit card companies to the issue. If you purchased something on a credit card, you might have protections that will allow you to get your money back.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!