Seniors Getting Scammed: Help Stop the Threat

Heather M., Editor

In your community, are seniors getting scammed? Many seniors grew up in an era when there was more trust between people, so they may be less suspicious of scammers. They are often more inclined to believe that what they see online is true, or that someone on the phone wouldn't lie to them – and they might not want to be rude by hanging up on that person. This, combined with an unfamiliarity with technology and lack of knowledge about cybersecurity and how to protect themselves and their personal information, makes them perfect targets for scammers.

Stop Seniors from Getting Scammed

Learn about what scammers are doing online and by telephone so you can alert the seniors in your community to the dangers and help them know what to do – and what not to do. A few examples of scams are described below.

The National Council on Aging lists the Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors.

Phishing – An Online Scam

Phishing is when someone impersonates a business or organization you deal with (e.g., bank or government agency) to trick you into giving out your personal information, which will then be used fraudulently. Don’t reply to email, text or pop-up messages that ask for your personal or financial information, or request that you update or confirm your account information. Don’t click on links within the message or call phone numbers given there either – even if the message seems to be from an organization you trust. You will be directed to a fake website that looks just like a legitimate organization’s site, or to a scammer’s phone number.

Remember that legitimate businesses and organizations don’t ask you to send personal information these ways. For instance, The IRS does not contact taxpayers by email, text or social media asking for personal or financial information. If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Get more information about IRS-related scams.

Read more about cybersecurity awareness and check out the Federal Trade Commission website, which has a wealth of information about online security.

Caller ID Spoofing and Other Telephone Scams

You can’t trust that the phone number you see on your caller ID is correct – numbers can be “spoofed” by scammers. Spoofing means deliberately falsifying a phone number to hide the scammer’s real identity and to make the number appear to be legitimate and from an organization you would trust. The scammer then will try to get you to divulge your personal information, which will be used fraudulently, or will attempt to steal money from you.

It’s not always easy to tell if the call you’re getting is spoofed. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) offers some tips on avoiding caller ID spoofing:

  • Don't answer calls from unknown numbers – but if you do, hang up immediately.
  • If you answer the phone and you’re asked to hit a button to stop getting the calls, just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
  • Don’t respond to any questions, even a simple “yes” or “no.”
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security number, mother's maiden name, passwords or other identifying information.
  • If someone says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in your phone book or on the company's or government agency's website to verify the authenticity of the request.

You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.

Another common telephone scam is the “one-ring” scam from a long-distance number. If you’re curious about who hung up after one ring and call back the number, it is likely an international call. While the person keeps you on the line as long as possible, you’re being charged high per-minute fees.

Find out more about these and other telephone frauds and scams from FCC.

For more information on home life and personal safety topics, browse the QuickSeries® library of guides, including Avoid Fraud and Keep Your Identity Safe.

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