Helping Seniors Avoid Falling Prey To Scams

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An older adult receives an urgent call from their grandchild: they’re in trouble, they can’t tell their parents, but they need money immediately.

The grandparent, fearing for their grandchild’s safety, follows the instructions provided and sends the money.

Except, it wasn’t their grandchild. It was a scammer using voice alteration tools to impersonate a younger person, and that money is now gone for good.

Unfortunately, that scenario is all too common among older adults. Every year people over the age of 60 are bilked out of $28.3 billion in financial scams. The rise of social media and smartphones have given scammers even more avenues to try to target older adults.

It’s so prevalent, that in February 2024 a story in New York Magazine went viral about a financial columnist, who writes about these situations for a living, losing $50,000 to a phone scam.

In this blog, we’re going to look at just a few of the most common scams, and ways to avoid falling victim.

The Grandparent Scam

The example noted above is rising in prominence as artificial intelligence becomes more common. As AI technology improves, it makes it easier for bad actors to impersonate people an older adult might know and trust. A 60 Minutes report on this topic shows just how easy it can be to use technology to mimic someone’s voice.

In this scam, the victim is contacted by scammers posing as a grandchild or other loved one, who claims to be in a precarious situation and needs money immediately. Their name might even show up on Caller ID. Often the scam starts with the person on the other end asking, “Do you know who this is?”. The older adult will say a name, and from there the scammers have gained their trust.

The stress of the situation and the fear for a loved one can lead people to act quickly to try to resolve the problem, not giving them time to step back and consider that it may be false.

How To Avoid Being Victimized

Families should discuss this situation with their loved ones and make a plan for what to do in case a grandparent gets a frantic call from someone claiming to be a grandchild. A few steps to take:

  • Do not offer any personal information like names when prompted.
  • Ask the person on the other end of the phone questions only a close family member would know the answers to.
  • Have a safe word, or password, known only to close family members so that if you’re unsure of the situation, you can ask them for that word to verify it’s really them.
  • Hang up the phone, and call the grandchild or family member back at their number to see if they are truly in some sort of trouble.
  • Call other family members to verify if there’s an emergency happening.

The Tech Support Scam

You get a phone call from someone claiming to be with Microsoft, an antivirus company, your bank or another big company, telling you there’s been a security breach in your account and that you’re at risk of being hacked and losing your savings.

The person on the phone will tell you to log on to your computer and follow instructions to help secure your account. What’s really happening though is that when you’re following the instructions, the hackers are gaining access to your computer remotely. And while they have that access, they go into your bank account and then siphon off money from there.

How To Avoid Being Victimized

First, know that tech companies don’t individually call or contact people about possible breaches. “Tech support fraud is increasingly common and targets some of the most vulnerable individuals. Above all, remember that whether it’s a phone call or a website, legitimate tech support won’t ever proactively seek you out to fix an issue,” said Emma McGowan, a privacy and Security expert at Avast

If you get a call like this, the easiest thing to do is hang up. If you’re unsure and want to verify an issue with your account, instead call the company directly and talk to an agent to find out if there is any unusual activity.

Most importantly, do not follow their instructions on your computer, and do not provide any personal information.

Government Scams

This one is similar to the tech support scam above, but in this case it will be someone calling and claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, Medicare or another government entity claiming that there’s an issue with your account and you need to address it immediately.

These scams can be particularly effective on vulnerable adults because the scammers can threaten that essential services or resources the victim needs will be cut off, or even legal consequences on behalf of the government, including fines, lawsuits or even prison.

Whether it’s losing access to medical care or the threat of legal action, the victim will follow instructions, only to have their information hacked and/or money stolen.

How To Avoid Being Victimized

Much like with the tech support scam, the government will almost certainly not call you unsolicited to deal with an issue. If you’re unsure, as with above, ask for the person’s name and then call the agency directly to find out if that person is real, or if there are any known issues with your account.

And do not give out any personal information, banking information or send any money to anyone.

General Tips To Avoid Scams

Those are just a few of the scams that nefarious actors use to try to victimize vulnerable older adults. Unfortunately, at some point you’re likely to be a target. Whether it’s one of the above scams, or something else, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

We’ve mentioned a couple of times not to offer personal information, but here are a few more rules of thumb:

  • Don’t assume your Caller ID is legitimate. Scammers can use technology called spoofing to make someone’s name, or a company or government entity, show up on your phone when they call. As noted above, those companies virtually never reach out unprompted to people.
  • Email and texting are also potential threats. Do not click any links you receive unprompted from mysterious email addresses or text messages.
  • If anyone contacts you claiming that you owe money and need to pay immediately, do not follow their instructions. Call the entity they’re claiming to be from and find out from them that way if you are in arrears on anything, or if there is anything flagged or strange in your account.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about it. If someone is contacting you, before you do anything with them, tell your family or a friend and ask for advice. Scammers try to create urgency in people and try to keep their victims from talking about it with someone. Hang up and be open and honest with a loved one about what’s going on.

Prestige Is Here To Help

At Prestige, unfortunately we know that there are all too many people out there trying to take advantage of well-meaning older adults.

With the pace of technological change, and the rise of artificial intelligence, it’s more difficult than ever to discern what’s real and what isn’t.

At Prestige, our communities have safeguards in place to help older adults stay safe from potential scams, and our team is always ready to help residents if they’re unsure of who they might be talking to.

To learn more, contact a community near you and visit with our team to see how we’re here to help.