Beware of Senior Scams
In the past few years, the number and frequency of scams targeting seniors have increased. These scams range in type, contact method, and targeted victims, but all are intended to either obtain personal information or money. Being alert to these scams and helping make the community aware are good ways to prevent you or a family member from becoming a victim.
Because seniors may be perceived as vulnerable or easy to get information or money from, older adults are most often the first choice for a potential victim for a scammer. In response to this, the NYS Division of Consumer Protection and AARP list many scams that elderly individuals should be aware of and ways to counteract them. Some types of scams include IRS scams, medical device scams, and scams suggesting some kind of sweepstakes have been won. It is important to note that if you are contacted in any way about something that seems fishy or coming from nowhere, it could be a possible scam, including an individual or company that you are unfamiliar with contacting you to request your personal information or some type of payment.
AARP understands that scams are on the rise. According to Doug Shadel from the AARP Bulletin, there were more than “29 billion in 2016 alone by one estimate, including lots of potential rip-offs. No wonder fraud complaints have increased nearly 60 percent since 2010, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).”
Scammers can often use personal information to try and trick their targets. They might know your name, phone number or address, or even family details. How do they get this information? According to another AARP Bulletin, “They buy it or steal it, says the FTC. And sometimes, we give it right to them. Semi-intimate details about our lives often are available online for anyone willing to dig.” A lot of personal information can also be found on social media. Sharing personal information on social media, or online in general, can be dangerous. If you’re going to do so, be cautious about what you share and with whom you share it.
Here are some important tips suggested by the NYS Division of Consumer Protection to help individuals become aware of or prevent an intended scam:
Always confirm the identity of the person you are speaking with over the phone, especially if it is a business or organization. Get some information on what type of business is contacting you and for what reason. If it seems suspicious or unfamiliar, hang up immediately. Keep in mind that scammers can manipulate their Caller ID to reflect a certain area code or telephone number.
Never provide personal or financial information to an unknown or unconfirmed source. These include things like Social Security number, credit card number, or even common information like your name or date of birth.
Do not open emails or attachments from strangers or an unfamiliar or suspicious source. If you receive an email or attachment from anything or anyone you are unfamiliar with, delete it immediately.
If you would like your phone number listed to block robocalls contact your telephone provider or register your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.
To help protect your computer, install protection/security anti-virus software and consciously keep it updated.
Here are some tips from AARP to help identify a potential phone scam and how to handle it:
Do some research on who is calling you. Try doing an internet search on the salesperson and company before you give out any information or money. If you cannot locate any solid information, or the company does not exist, it is a scam.
Try to keep your reactions in check. No matter how much the scammer threatens you or claims that the reason they are calling is urgent, try not to panic or act irrationally. Always hang up and give yourself time to think it over and do some research. If you decide it is fishy, do not answer future calls or just hang up on scammers.
Most important, it is always good to trust your instincts. If you think it could be a scam or sounds suspicious, trust your gut and hang up.
An example of one popular scam to be aware of is the IRS scam. Victims are often contacted via phone or email to be told that they owe money to the IRS. The IRS does not and will not contact individuals who owe money or have issues with taxes over the phone or through email. IRS concerns are always handled through the United States Postal Service with the IRS making first contact. The IRS will also never ask an individual for payment via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. If you are contacted by anyone claiming to be the IRS by any method that is not through the U.S. mail, it is a scam. These types of scammers may also already have some personal information to make them appear more realistic. Do not be tricked by this into giving out any more information or making any payments. If you do believe you owe the IRS or have other concerns, contact the IRS directly at irs.gov.
Scams can be very convincing and very frightening. Just because you may receive a call or email from a scammer does not mean you should be afraid to answer your phone or look at your emails. Being prepared to identify a scam and being wary of anything that seems too good to be true are excellent steps to take to prevent falling victim to a scam. If you want to find out more about scams there are many resources available to use. The NYS Division of Consumer Protection can be found by visiting the NYS Department of State website at www.dos.ny.gov and accessing Consumer Protection under “Divisions.” AARP also provides information on their website www.aarp.org in Consumer Protection under the “Money” section. Finally, if you are contacted by a scammer, you can contact your local police department to make a statement. Everyone should know that scams are part of our modern age, and be prepared to protect themselves.
Patrick Sullivan is a Medaille College student and intern at Buffalo Spree Publishing.