Top 10 Scams Targeting Seniors – and How to Stay Safe

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The internet can be a wonderful place. But it is also overrun with fraudsters who prey on people who are susceptible to fraud.

senior citizens scams

We are all getting older. That’s good news for digital fraudsters, who see rich profits in a rapidly aging society. They are increasingly targeting seniors because they suspect these targets have more money to steal but may be less digitally savvy to spot the early warning signs of a scam. In 2022, cybercrime damages amounted to $3.1 billion reported to the FBI by people over 60, after 88,262 incidents. While this represented an increase of 82% year-on-year, many more cases will have gone unreported.

The impact of such scams can be devastating if you are already retired and have no source of income to replace the savings lost to fraudsters. So if you are a senior or a concerned family member, read on.

10 scams to watch out for

Of course, the internet can be a wonderful place. But it is also overrun with bad people who try to steal your personal information and money. Here are some of the most common schemes:

1. Phishing

Let’s start with a threat that is a scourge of the modern Internet: phishing. A phishing email, telephone/social media message arrives unsolicited. The scammer pretends to be a legitimate entity and asks you to provide information such as account logins, or to click a link/open an attachment. The former allows them to hijack your accounts, while the latter can trigger a malware download designed to steal more data or lock your computer.

phishing email example
Figure 1. Example of a fake email notification (read more here)

2. Romance scams

Romance scams netted fraudsters $734 billion in 2022, the FBI says. Scammers will create fake profiles on dating sites, befriend lonely hearts and bond, with the aim of making as much money as possible. Typical stories include needing money for medical bills or to travel to see their loved one. Needless to say, they will always find an excuse not to show up on a video call or meet in person.

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3. Medicare/Healthcare

The scammer poses as a Medicare representative in order to obtain personal and medical information that can be sold to others to commit health insurance fraud. They can do this by email, by phone or even in person.

4. Technical support

In one of the oldest phone scams, the fraudster pretends to be a legitimate entity, such as a technology company or telecom provider, and tells you that something is wrong with your PC. This may happen out of the blue, or you may be asked to call a ‘helpline’ after an innocent but worrying pop-up appears on your computer. The scammer may trick you into gaining access to the machine. They will try to find a way to make money from you; for unnecessary ‘protection’ or ‘upgrades’ of the machine, or by stealing financial information from it.

tech-support-scam example
Figure 2. This warning is fake (read more here)

5. Online shopping fraud

Scammers create legitimate-looking online stores and then lure users to visit them via phishing emails or unsolicited text messages or social media posts. Items are often discounted with incredible offers. However, products are counterfeit, stolen or non-existent and the real goal is to steal your card details.

6. Robocalls

Robocalls rely on automated technology to bother large numbers of recipients at once. A pre-recorded message can be used to offer free or heavily discounted goods. Or it can be used to scare the recipient into responding, for example by telling them that they are the subject of a threatened lawsuit. If you respond, the scammers will try to obtain your personal and financial information.

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7. Impersonation by the government

Like tech support scams, these are usually run by call centers in South Asia. The combined losses exceeded $1 billion in 2022. In this version, the scammer will call pretending to be from the IRS, Medicare, or other government agency and demand unpaid taxes or other payments. They will aggressively warn that non-payment could result in arrest or other penalties.

8. Lottery fraud

A fraudster calls out of the blue and claims you have won a lottery. All you have to do to reclaim your winnings is pay a small processing fee or tax in advance. Of course there is no prize and your money disappears.

fake lottery
Figure 3. Announcing fake lottery winnings (see more here)

9. Grandparent scams

A scammer calls you unannounced and pretends to be a family member in danger. They usually start with something like, “Hello Grandma, do you know who this is?” and then move on to a tale of woe designed to convince you to part with cash to help them. Usually they ask for a money transfer, gift card or payment via a cash app. They may ask that you keep everything secret. In some variations on this theme, the scammer poses as an arresting police officer, doctor, or lawyer trying to help the grandchild. Advances in AI software known as deepfakes could even allow them to more accurately imitate your grandchild’s voice to pull off so-called “virtual kidnapping scams.”

10. Investment fraud

This category is the highest earner for cybercriminals in 2022, earning over $3.3 billion. This category refers to get-rich-quick schemes that promise low risk and guaranteed returns, often through cryptocurrency investments. In reality, the entire plan was built on sand.

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How to stay safe

We’ve written about this before and while the scammers’ tactics may change, the advice on best practice remains fairly consistent. To stay safe, remember the following:

  • If an offer is too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Treat any unsolicited contact with suspicion. If you want to respond, never respond directly to a message. Instead, Google the sending setting and call or email separately to confirm.
  • Stay calm even when spoken to on the phone. And don’t give out any personal information.
  • Don’t trust the caller ID, it can be imitated.
  • Use multi-factor authentication for your accounts to reduce the threat of someone stealing your login information.
  • Never send money via bank transfer, payment apps, gift cards or cryptocurrency as there is no way to get it back in the event of fraud.
  • Don’t click on links or open attachments in emails/texts/social media messages.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

If you think you have been scammed, contact the local police, your local bank (if financial information is involved) or even (in the US). Adult Protective Services. It’s also a good idea to reset your passwords if you’ve handed them over to a potential scammer. In the US, consider report the matter to the FTC.

If you’re reading this and you’re concerned about elderly relatives, take the time to talk about common scams. Technology can often be intimidating if we don’t fully understand it. But it’s that unwillingness to find out more – and our unwillingness to tell anyone we’ve been scammed – that fraudsters are taking advantage of. Let’s not let them have the last laugh.

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