Helping Protect Seniors from Fraud and Identity Theft

Reading time: 5 minutes

Highlights:

  • Senior citizens’ savings and good credit may make them more attractive to fraudsters
  • Shame or embarrassment may prevent seniors from reporting fraud
  • Educate the seniors in your life of the risks and steps they can take to help prevent fraud

While identity theft and fraud can strike people of all ages, senior citizens may be particularly vulnerable, for several reasons. They’re more likely to have more savings and good credit scores, which makes seniors attractive targets, according to the FBI. In addition, says the FBI, they “were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say ‘no,’ or just hang up the telephone.”

Senior citizens may also be less likely to report fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are ashamed, or may be afraid, the FBI says. For instance, a fraud victim may worry that if family members discover the fraud, they may believe the victim is no longer able to manage his or her own finances.

Among consumers in their 20s, 43 percent who reported fraud in 2018 said they lost money, compared to 15 percent of those over age 70, according to the Federal Trade Commission. However, consumers in their 70s reported losing more money to fraud – a median of $750 per victim, compared to $400 for people in their 20s.

“The people involved are vulnerable, and because of their stage in life, they don’t have the opportunity frequently to recover,” Attorney General William Barr said in March 2019. “And so these losses are devastating to them.”

Are the seniors in your life aware of fraud and identity theft risks? According to the National Council on Aging, here are some common frauds and scams that may target senior citizens:

Medicare/health insurance fraud

In these types of scams, a fraudster may contact a consumer and claim to be a Medicare representative in order to get victims’ personal information. They may also provide bogus services at makeshift clinics for senior citizens, then use their personal information to bill Medicare.

What you can do: If they receive a phone call, email, or letter from someone claiming to be from Medicare, encourage seniors to contact Medicare directly to verify its legitimacy. Medicare encourages senior citizens to record dates they receive health care services, keep receipts and statements, and carefully monitor claims. The agency also encourages seniors not to allow anyone but their doctors to review their records or recommend services, and to be wary of providers who say a service isn’t covered but they “know how to bill Medicare.”

Phone scams

Scammers may use fake telemarketing calls to get money or personal information from senior citizens. These may include offering a prize or money in exchange for a “good faith” payment; telling the senior citizen they must wire or send money because a relative is in this hospital; or posing as a fake charity soliciting donations. In a “grandparent scam,” a caller will pretend to be a grandchild needing money for an emergency, while other callers may claim to be from the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration.

What you can do:  Educate the seniors in your life about these scams and let them know it’s best to never provide personal information over the phone. If they are concerned a caller is actually a relative in need, encourage them to contact the person first to verify before giving any information or sending money – and not to be persuaded by aggressive tactics. They can tell solicitors that they don’t buy from anyone who visits or calls them unannounced and ask for information in writing. Show them how to research charities using online services such as Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau before donating. Lastly, let them know the IRS and the Social Security Administration will never contact people by telephone unless the person initiates the contact.

Online and email scams

Scammers may use pop-up browser windows to warn of a virus or tout virus-scanning software, prompting victims to buy and download a fake anti-virus program – or even an actual virus that may open the information on their computer to scammers. Also, phishing emails may appear to be from a legitimate company or financial institution, asking them to log in to their account. Or an email may claim to be from the IRS regarding a tax refund.

What you can do: Explain the risks of pop-up windows warning of a “virus” or other computer issue, and help them install and update reputable anti-virus protection on their computers. Teach them how to recognize phishing emails – for instance, they can hover over the sender’s address to see if it matches that of the company. Encourage them not to log in to their accounts from an email link, but go to the company or financial institution’s web site directly or contact them to verify a communication is legitimate.

Fraud victims

If a senior citizen you know has been scammed, encourage them to report it and not to be afraid or embarrassed – everyone is at risk for fraud and identity theft. Here are some steps they can take if they’ve been a victim.