As if the worry over COVID-19 wasn’t enough for seniors, you can now add an additional level of stress: COVID-19-related senior scams. Unfortunately, seniors are a favorite target of scam artists anyway and with the pandemic these criminals are playing on uncertainty and fear to escalate their efforts. But you can protect yourself from senior scams. Here’s how.
The Facts on Senior Scams
According to a report by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), in 2017 alone seniors had losses of $1.7 billion due to scams. A 2019 report by the Senate Special Committee on Aging found that seniors are now losing an estimated $2.9 billion annually and that one in 10 Americans 65 or older who lives at home will become a victim.
The CFPB breaks down the average losses by age group:
- Ages 80 and older – $39,200
- Ages 70 to 70 – $45,300
- Ages 60-69 – $22,700
- Ages 50-59 – $13,400
What’s more, in 51 percent of cases strangers were responsible for the exploitation. But these facts aren’t meant to scare you; rather to make you aware as knowledge is one of the best ways to protect yourself.
Common COVID-19-Related Senior Scams
By April this year, COVID-19-related scams had already cost Americans $13.4 million according to the Federal Trade Commission and that number continues to rise. Here are some of the most common senior scams during the pandemic so far:
- Fake Emails – These emails seem like they are from the CDC or other legitimate organizations, but by clicking on the links malware or a virus might be activated that’s designed to get personal information from you in order to steal money. Be very careful what you click on by checking the URL to make sure it’s from who it claims to be. Also, if you’re looking for COVID-19 information, go straight to the source such as the CDC website for example.
- N95 Masks – These specific masks typically aren’t needed for anyone other than healthcare workers. However, should you find you do need one, beware of rip-offs. Check the URL of any site that sells them before visiting and double-check how they are defining their N95 masks to make sure its accurate. If you do decide to buy, beware of ultra-cheap pricing and price gouging as well.
- Miracle Cures – There are many conspiracy theories out there regarding cures as well as vaccines and scammers are taking full advantage. While it may be tempting, don’t click on any links promoting “cures” unless it comes from your healthcare provider or the CDC.
- Tech Support – Everyone is using more technology these days due to COVID-19 and if you’re not particularly tech savvy, this could create challenges. Scammers know this too. When you have problems don’t just Google “Zoom tech support” for example. That could take you to a phishing site. Instead, go to the company’s official website and get the appropriate phone number from there.
- IRS Impersonators – This was a common scam before COVID-19. You’d get a call saying you owed back taxes and would be arrested if you didn’t provide your payment information. Now there’s a new twist, the call may be about stimulus payments and whether there might be additional money available for you. They just need your social security number to check. Don’t fall for it.
- Fake Charities – This is even more disheartening as so many legitimate charities are really hurting right now. We’re not advocating that you avoid giving, rather before you respond to any request for a donation check the charity’s rating through BBB Wise Giving Alliance or Charity Navigator.
Senior Scam Busters
In addition to being aware of common COVID-19-related and other senior scams, these tips can also help:
- Discuss offers made by telemarketers or in emails, social media, etc. with a friend or family member that you trust.
- Never share personal information such as your social security number, credit card, bank information or account passwords with strangers who contact you or in any suspicious situation. In general, always give as little personal data as possible even in legitimate circumstances.
- Always ask for written details of any offers or prizes that you may be eligible for and wait to respond until you have reviewed the information thoroughly.
- Don’t be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts or making donations until all your questions are answered and you’ve discussed it with a trusted family member or friend.
- Specific to shopping online, always use familiar and/or trusted websites and make sure the URL starts with HTTPS and/or look for the padlock icon before purchasing.
And, in general it’s always a good idea to check your bank and credit card statements regularly, make sure you have an anti-virus program on your devices that is regularly updated, create strong passwords that you change often and never enter personal information when using a public Wi-Fi network.