How to Protect Seniors from Getting Scammed
by Keith Morris
Topic: Scam Protection for Seniors
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Seniors are the most vulnerable members of the population besides children. Unfortunately, they are often the targets of telephone or internet scams that threaten their security.
Teaching your senior family members to be aware of the dangers of online and telephone fraudulent schemes is critical to protecting their personal information. While it's not always possible to monitor your loved ones 24/7, especially if they are still cognitively and physically independent, you can do your part by educating them on scammers’ tactics.
Come up with a plan for handling these situations if they arise, so your loved one never feels trapped or forced into handing over their personal or financial information.
Educate Your Senior Family Members
The best way to protect seniors from getting scammed is to educate them on potential scams that may befall them. Ensuring your parent or grandparent understands what signs to watch for and how to handle these types of calls or emails is essential to their safety.
Make it clear that financial and personal information should never be requested over the phone or via email out of the blue. Seniors need to understand that it's a red flag if someone randomly contacts them asking for money, banking information, or a credit card number.
Teach your parents or grandparents that if someone calls and says they’re from a bank or other financial institution claiming problems with an account, the correct course of action is to hang up and place a call to their bank to confirm if there are any current issues. Never provide information over the phone unless they have instigated the call and know exactly who you are speaking to.
Practice rehearsed responses that get your parent or grandparent out of a high pressure phone call where they’re being asked to make a snap decision. A simple yet effective phrase could be, “when my [family member] get’s home, I will discuss it with them.” This shuts the conversation down and suggests that the individual does not live alone, which may deter future attempts by the same scammer.
If your loved one struggles with email and digital technology, make arrangements to be present when they’re responding to emails. Encourage them never to independently open links in emails, even from senders they trust, to avoid complications or confusion.
For seniors experiencing MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment) or serious conditions like Alzheimer’s and Dementia, you or a trusted family member may need to step in and handle their finances and personal information. If a senior can no longer give informed consent, there is a greater risk they may be conned into providing their personal or banking information over the telephone.
Common Scams That Target Seniors
A senior may receive a phone call claiming to be any number of things from a duct cleaning service to a charitable organization asking for money.
When it comes to scams targeting senior citizens, there are several predictable approaches that scammers are likely to take. Being aware of them can help prevent seniors getting scammed. Be wary of these tactics:
Medicare and health insurance scams
Health insurance scams targeting seniors involve fraudsters pretending to be Medicare or insurance company representatives and ask for the individual’s Medicare/Medicaid information. Once they have it, they’ll use that information to bill Medicare for reimbursement for non-existent appointments or services.
There are a few kinds of mortgage scams that might impact seniors. One is called loan flipping, whereby a corrupt lender pressures a senior to continually take out a higher loan against their home, usually, because they have significant equity. Seniors are especially vulnerable to these scams when they are not completely cognitively aware and may not remember they’ve repeatedly refinanced their mortgage.
Email phishing schemes
These scams come in the form of an email, usually from someone posing as a bank or government institution. They will ask you to provide personal information or a credit card number, claiming your information needs updating or that you’re going to be transferred money that you’re owed as a reimbursement.
Telemarketing service scams
Scams via telephone leave little trace and are easy for the scammer to pull off if the person agrees to the service. A senior may receive a phone call claiming to be any number of things from a duct cleaning service to a charitable organization asking for money.
Pretending to be a grandchild
Playing on the sympathies of the elderly is another method of scamming. The scammer will call, pretending to be a grandchild in need of financial support, and will encourage the senior to digitally transfer them money.
False prize winnings
These scams can be via email or over the telephone and deliver a message to the senior that they have won some sort of contest, cruise, prize, or lottery. The caveat is that to access their winnings, they must provide a credit card or bank account number.
There are two kinds of funeral-related schemes that commonly target seniors. One is for a scammer to attend the funeral service of the seniors’ spouse and claim that the deceased owed them a debt. They will use this claim to extort money from the widower.
Alternatively, corrupt funeral homes may take advantage of grieving widows by adding unnecessary charges to a funeral home bill.
Counterfeit prescription drug schemes
Senior citizens looking for cheaper prescription drugs than their pharmacy offers may turn to the internet for help. This is where scammers set up fake sites advertising drugs that the person will either pay for and never receive, or they’ll receive a counterfeit product.
Seniors are often not well versed in cyber security, making it easy for scammers to send links via email that, when clicked, will download a virus to the person’s computer. This can give a fraudster access to personal information on the machine and bookmarked web pages or bank account logins.
Your Attitude Matters Most
If a senior parent or grandparent falls victim to a scam, it’s critical that you do not blame them or make them feel ashamed for their actions.
If a senior parent or grandparent falls victim to a scam, it’s critical that you do not blame them or make them feel ashamed for their actions. You want them to feel comfortable confiding in you when these events occur, and if they feel too embarrassed or they’re too proud to come to you because of how you react, it can lead to further complications in the future.
While handling a scam can challenge you and be stressful, do your best to be sympathetic and educational. DO NOT:
- Get angry
- Place blame
- Degrade or insult your loved one
- Take your frustration out on them
Instead, talk to your loved one about handling future calls or emails that are suspicious. It might be tempting and faster to handle the situation yourself and just inform your parents or grandparent when it's resolved, but this doesn’t serve them for the future. Walk them through the steps you’re taking to rectify the problem and communicate with them, so they understand what’s going on.
If you believe your senior loved one is a fraud victim, you can contact the FBI or submit a tip via their hotline. Another option is to file a complaint online via the Internet Crime Complaint Center. When reporting an instance of fraud, keep as much useful documentation as possible, including phone records, emails, and other details related to the incident.
Keeping seniors safe starts at home with open communication and thoughtful education on how they can protect themselves.
About the Author
Keith Morris is a 20+ year veteran of the security game, with the knowledge and experience to set you on the right track toward personal safety and security. His firm is committed to giving you the tools and know-how to combat any threat to your safety.