What are the Most Common Scams Against Seniors?
There are a number of ways in which scammers are able to cheat us. They may call, pretending to be a grandchild in trouble, and beg for money. They might win our confidence on an online dating site and ask us to "loan" them money to help them out. They could impersonate an IRS agent and threaten us with jail if we do not immediately pay our back taxes, which they demand in the form of gift cards or other untraceable types of instant money. Sometimes they ask for donations to official sounding charities.
Scammers can also trick us by sending fraudulent emails from sites which look similar to the official sites of our bank or credit card company. They might download malware on our computer and lock us out, until we pay a ransom.
It seems as if the different ways scammers can attack us are endless and they are continually coming up with new approaches. We have to continually be vigilant.
How to Protect Ourselves from Scammers
While there seems to be no limit to the variety and creativity of the scams which threaten your financial security and peace-of-mind, there are steps you can take to make yourself less vulnerable.
1. Ask plenty of questions if a family member calls and asks for money. No matter how much of an emergency it appears to be, make sure you are actually talking to your relative and not a complete stranger. We have told our adult children and grandchildren not to get their feelings hurt if they ever call asking for money and we pepper them with questions. We explained to them there are very aggressive scammers who pretend to be members of a family and beg for financial assistance ... often while "crying" so it is difficult to identify their voices. As a result, we would need to ask numerous questions before sending anyone money. These questions might include where they went to school, their best friend's name, or their address as a child. We have also told our family members we would call them back on their cell phone and discuss the request with other family members, to make sure the request is legitimate.
2. Be suspicious if an "authority figure" calls and demands money. Whenever a stranger calls pretending to be an IRS agent, the manager of your bank, or an representative from your credit card company, do not provide them with information they should already have such as your credit card number, date of birth or full Social Security number. If you are in doubt, hang up and call the company or business directly, using the official customer service phone number for your bank or credit card company. The IRS will never unexpectedly call you demanding an immediate payment.
3. Do not send money to strangers you "meet" online. No matter how compelling or sad their story is, there is no way for you to verify they are telling you the truth. Be suspicious, even if they show you "evidence." Many of these scammers work in groups and they are very good at vouching for each other or producing realistic looking documents.
4. Be very slow to send money to anyone. Just because someone else seems to be having an emergency, you do not have to rush to send them money. Take your time. Whenever you consider sending money to someone, even a relative, discuss the decision with other family members. If necessary, call the police or the U.S. State Department and ask for their help in confirming that the situation is legitimate, particularly if the "crisis" is occurring in another country.
5. Never click on links in emails which are sent by strangers. You should only click on links in emails sent by friends if you are expecting the link. Your friend's email service could have been hacked. Email links can allow scammers to take over your computer remotely. Once they do, they can find anything you may have on your computer ... banking information, contacts, photos, passwords, etc. For example, I have told my friends that if they send me a joke or interesting story and I have to open a link to read it, I will not open the link unless I am expecting them to send me this information. We can't be too careful.
6. Be careful about what you say on social media. Make sure your Facebook posts have a privacy setting of "Friends only." Do not reveal too much about yourself; especially do not give details about where you live and then announce when you are out-of-town. Some people make it far too easy to be robbed. In addition, be careful of the social media questionnaires which ask personal information about you such as your birth date, place of birth, maiden name, etc. Combined with other information about you which is publicly available online, dishonest people can easily steal your identity.
7. Make sure your computer is as safe from intruders as possible. Although any computer can be hacked, some people make it far too easy. Use both antivirus and anti-spyware software. Keep your computer software updated.
8. If you receive harassing phone calls, block the number. No matter how lonely you may be, talking to strangers on the phone is not safe, no matter how old you are. They may have done their research on you before making the call, including looking up your first name and the names of family members. They may pretend to have met you and try to gain your confidence, before tricking you into making a "donation" to a worthwhile cause or asking for money for some other purpose. Keep phone calls from solicitors, charities and other strangers short. Hang up on them, if necessary. We always tell phone solicitors that we do not conduct business over the phone, and then quickly end the call. After the call, we block the number so they cannot keep calling back.
Finally, if you believe you have been cheated or tricked by a scammer, take the time to report the incident to the police. If the scammer was pretending to be from the IRS, your bank or another business, notify the government agency or business involved so they can help you prevent this from happening to someone else.
If you are interested in learning more about handling finances in retirement, where to retire, common medical issues, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.
Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness, which is being published by Griffin Publishing and Watering Seeds and will be available in the fall of 2017.
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