Awareness of Scams Is Power

While it’s important for everyone to protect themselves from financial and identity scams, older adults can often be at a heightened risk. The Federal Trade Commission estimates in 2020, Americans aged 60 and older lost $602 million to fraud, scams, and financial exploitation. While many tactics used by scammers are not new, COVID-19 has created new opportunities for manipulating victims.

Confidence scams work by gaining your trust through personal connection and utilizing stories that elicit sympathy, such as a job loss or health issue. Your sympathetic response is used as a way to manipulate you to send money to the scammer.

Romance scams take this one step further; by creating the illusion of a romantic relationship. These scams start as fake online dating or social media profiles, often tailor made using information you have publicly posted. Once your affection has been solidified, the scammer has a sudden emergency or an exciting investment opportunity and convinces you to transfer money, send money orders, or buy gift cards. Scammers might request to communicate with you directly, instead of through dating or social media platforms. They may seem too good to be true, or express affection soon after communications start. The scammer may refuse to meet in-person or cancel plans to meet at the last minute, and is always available, day or night.  Ultimately the scammer will ask you to send money, cryptocurrency, or transfer money through accounts.

What to do: Talk it over with a trusted friend or family member, don’t provide money or banking information, and stop communicating with the person if you have concerns it might be a scam.

Hang up, look up the number for the agency that the caller claimed to be from, and call the agency directly to inquire about the call.

Government imposter scams begin as a phone call. The caller claims to be from an official agency, such as the Social Security Administration, IRS, or the police department. The caller ID may also appear to be calling from the stated agency. They will request you verify your identity by supplying personal information or demand immediate payment of an outstanding fee, tax, or bill. The scam always includes a claim that if you don’t comply, some form of penalty will be imposed. Depending on the scam, this could be loss of benefits, a higher fine, prosecution, or arrest.

What to do: Hang up, look up the number for the agency that the caller claimed to be from,  and call the agency directly to inquire about the call.

Business imposter scams may occur through text messages, emails, or phone calls stating suspicious activity on your account. These messages can be very convincing and include company logos and accurate-looking email accounts or phone numbers. The scam will go on to state you need to click a link or verbally verify your account information in order to resolve the issue, update payment information, or regain access to the account. This information can then be used to access your account to make fraudulent purchases, steal personal information, and set up fake accounts.

What to do: Reach out to the business’ customer service department directly to inquire about any issues; watch out for oddly phrased emails or ones  with misspelled words; do not click on links asking you to log in to your account or verify your account information—instead go directly to the site and log in to your account as usual.

Sweepstakes scams rely on excitement over having ‘won’ money or a prize. Victims receive unexpected emails, letters, or calls, stating that in order to collect your winnings, a fee must be paid, or your banking information must be supplied. Scammers will often impersonate well-known contest and sweepstakes organizations to convince you of their authenticity. 

What to do: Be wary if you do not recall entering a sweepstakes or lottery; slow down; don’t let excitement cloud your judgment; don’t give banking information or provide payment; stop communication or hang up.

Grandparent scams use an imposter to contact you claiming to be your grandchild, or family member. Alternatively, they may claim to be a police officer and provide a detailed description of your family member. The scammer will explain that the family member is in trouble and needs money immediately to help. The type of emergency can vary; reports of this kind of fraud include paying for bail, car accidents, medical bills, and being stranded while traveling.

What to do: Ask personal questions that only the family member would be able to answer; take note if the call is from an unknown number; call the family member directly, or another family member to verify the story.

Computer tech scams come as calls and emails, and often appear to be from reputable companies. Pop-ups may appear stating to call a specific number or click a link to connect to a repair specialist. These scams claim that your computer has been infected with a virus or is otherwise not working properly. They will offer to fix the issue for a fee and require remote access to your computer. Once this access is granted, the scammer can steal personal and financial information and install malware on the device.

What to do: Restart your computer and run your antivirus program. If it’s a phone call, hang up.

If you suspect you have been the victim of a scam, speak to someone you trust or contact the police, district attorney’s office, state attorney general, or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Call LifePath for more information at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259, or send us an email at Know you are not alone.

Barbara Bodzin
Barbara Bodzin, Former LifePath Executive Director
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