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5 Common Scams Targeting Seniors

December 21, 2018

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Seniors over 60, and, in particular, older women living alone, are common targets of fraud. And while many seniors think they could never fall victim to a scam, an estimated 5 million seniors are financially exploited by scammers each year, resulting in nearly 1.5 billion dollars in losses each year.

Why are senior scams so common? Seniors are more likely to have a “nest egg” over other generations. Additionally, many of today’s seniors are naturally more trusting of others, making them easier targets. Finally, seniors are more likely to experience cognitive decline, making it easier to confuse seniors who are more willing to believe scams.

Common Tactics Used in Senior Scams

Scams and fraud against seniors aren’t always so easy to spot, especially since the majority of them happen over the phone. Here are some common tactics scammers use to fraud seniors:

  • Force you to make fast decisions and may even threaten you
  • Disguise their real numbers or use fake caller IDs
  • Pretend to be associated with a government entity such as the IRS
  • Ask for your personal information such as Social Security number, account numbers or credit card numbers
  • Offer you free travel or a deal that sounds simply too good to be true

How Scammers Target Seniors

Being able to recognize the tactics of a fraudster is just the first step. Here are some common scams seniors need to be aware of:

1. IRS Impersonation Scams. According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the IRS impersonation scam has been the most frequently reported scam for three years. More than 2.1 million Americans have been targeted by scammers saying they are from the IRS and demanding payment, or other sensitive information, over the phone. These calls can happen any time of year, but are most frequently heard of during tax season.

Remember, the IRS will never call you regarding immediate payment for back taxes, nor will they threaten to have you arrested for not providing payment over the phone. The IRS will always contact you directly via the United States Postal Service. If you receive a call from someone claiming they are from the IRS, hang up. If you are nervous the call is legitimate, call your local IRS office directly.

2. Robocalls & Unsolicited Calls. Even if your number is listed on the Do-Not-Call Registry, you can still be subject to unsolicited calls from telemarketers and robocalls. According to the FCC, nearly 2.4 billion robocalls are made each month. These are auto-dialed calls that present a pre-recorded message. Those who show interest in wanting to learn more are then transferred to a live person. While the nature of these calls can vary, some common robocalls include offers for free travel (anywhere from free hotel rooms to free cruises), car warranty extensions and calls for donations to charities that don’t exist.

Good rule of thumb, if it sounds too good to be true, or if they are too demanding of payment, they are unlikely from a legitimate company or organization.

3. weepstakes & Lottery Scams. Congrats, you’ve won a million dollars from a contest you never entered or a lottery from a state or country you’ve never been to! You might think a scam like this would be easy to spot, but this common scam is estimated to cost unsuspecting seniors nearly 300 million dollars a year. Scammers generally contact victims either by phone or through the mail telling them they’ve won a cash prize and all they need to do to collect it is pay a small fee.

Legitimate lotteries or sweepstakes will never ask you to wire transfer money or pay a small fee to claim your prize.

4. Grandparent Scams. With this scam, fraudsters try to play on the emotions of seniors by claiming their grandchild is in trouble and needs money. Many scammers will either pretend to be the grandchild themselves, or claim they know the grandchild, and need help with an emergency such as bail money for jail, paying a medical bill or getting them out of a foreign country.

Always be skeptical of anyone calling you out of the blue demanding you wire them any amount of money.

5. “Can You Hear Me?” Scams. Consumers initially reported this scam in early 2017. Scammers simply ask a yes or no question such as “Are you there?” or “Can you hear me?” hoping to record a reply of “yes” before disconnecting the call. Consumers who have received calls like this have later seen unauthorized charges on their credit cards, utility bills and phone bills.

The best way to avoid this scam is to avoid answering phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize.

Preventing Scams Against Seniors

One of the best ways to avoid falling victim to a scam is to avoid answering calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize. However, it’s important to keep in mind that even with caller ID, many scammers will try to mask their numbers to resemble your own with the hope that seeing a familiar number will entice you to answer.

If you do answer the phone, always beware of anyone asking for personal information or demanding sensitive information you are uncomfortable revealing. Doing so can go a long way in helping you avoid losing your hard-earned retirement savings to fraud.

About Franciscan Ministries

Franciscan Ministries offers a wide range of community options for seniors. Our mission is to ensure every resident has access to the services and amenities they need to live healthy, active lives. If you or your loved one is considering moving to a senior living community, contact us today to learn more about our community options, as well as our wide range of programs all designed to help seniors live life to the fullest.


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