The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging recently released its 2018 report on the top 10 scams targeted to seniors as reported to its toll-free fraud hotline. While I feel disheartened by the sheer volume of fraud taking place, I share the government’s belief that raising public awareness together with rigorous prosecution of offenders will make a difference.
Following are some of the most common ones and what to do to avoid being scammed.
• IRS impersonation scams. If you receive a call purportedly from the IRS, just hang up. The agency would normally contact you by letter, not by phone. And a representative would never call a taxpayer to demand payment, issue a threat or request a prepaid debit card or gift card for tax payment.
• Robocalls and unsolicited phone calls. Do not give out any personal information in response to an unsolicited incoming call. If the caller claims to be from a company or government agency seeking personal information, hang up and then call the phone number on your account statement, in the phonebook or on the company’s or agency’s website to determine whether the request was legitimate.
• Sweepstakes/Jamaican lottery scams. Evidently this is a popular one, and the U.S. government has been working with the Jamaican government to extradite the criminals behind it. You should never send money to anyone for any reason (processing fees, taxes, whatever) based on an unsolicited promise of any kind, lottery or otherwise.
• Computer tech support scams. Most commonly this involves the scammers telling you they represent Microsoft or Apple support and that your computer has a virus. The scammers will then direct you to some data or benign error message on your computer as proof that they have remote access, though in reality the data or message is actually common to all computers. Other variants involve getting you to click on a link in an email that loads ransomware onto your computer, subsequently locking it and requiring you to send money to get it fixed. To avoid the risk of ransomware, never click on a link in an email unless you are 110 percent sure it is legitimate. When contacted by any third party out of the blue, never give them access to your computer. If you believe your computer has been infected with something, call your security software company directly or find a local IT shop to help. And make sure you are keeping all of your computer’s antivirus software, firewalls and popup blockers up to date.
• Elder financial abuse. The Government Accountability Office reports that seniors lose more than $2.9 billion annually due to financial exploitation. Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone and require support with daily activities. Perpetrators include family members, paid home-care workers, financial advisers, legal guardians or just plain criminals reaching out through mail, telephone or the internet. If you believe a senior you know might be the victim of fraud or abuse, contact Santa Clara County Adult Protective Services.
• Romance scams. Fraudsters using online dating services pretend to fall in love with victims they meet online for the purpose of getting access to their money. This is one of the most heartbreaking scams because con artists exploit seniors’ loneliness and vulnerability. The committee does not provide any specific advice except to be highly cautious about anyone you meet online.
Other scams involve swindlers misrepresenting themselves as being from the Social Security Administration, from local or national law enforcement organizations or from banks or other companies with whom you do business. As with the scams above, if you understand that these organizations would never reach out to you by phone without first mailing letters explaining any problems, you can avoid becoming a victim by simply hanging up the phone.
The Senate committee report includes many stories about actual victims as well as lists of resources.
To access the report, visit collins.senate.gov/sites/default/files/2019%20Fraud%20Book.pdf.
To report fraud, call the U.S. Senate committee’s hotline at (855) 303-9470.