14 Infuriating Scams That Target Seniors

Did you get the email from the prince in a faraway country who wants to share his fortune with you? How about the one from the attractive man who is desperately in love with you… but he needs you to front the money for a visit?

Some scams are so well-known or obvious that they seem more comical than dangerous. But while outdated schemes seem to stick around longer than you’d think possible, scammers are coming up with new traps all the time. And scammers shamelessly target older adults. Scams and fraud cost older Americans $2.9 billion every year, and that’s just what was actually reported.

Because scammers are savvy, older adults and those who look out for older adults need to be savvy. Below we’ll discuss 14 common scams and how to spot them before someone pulls the wool over your eyes—and the money out of your bank account.

1. IRS Impersonation

A call from someone claiming to be with the IRS can make even the most vigilant taxpayer nervous, and the IRS impersonation scam was the most common scam to target older adults in 2017. It involves someone claiming to be an agent of the IRS calling and demanding immediate payment for unpaid taxes or debt over the phone.

In response to these scammers, the IRS advises that they will never ask for a credit card number over the phone, threaten to call the police, require a specific type of payment, or call someone to ask for payment without first sending something in the mail. The real IRS will also always give the taxpayer the option to question or appeal an owed amount.

2. Can You Hear Me?

This scam involves a person or a robot asking “Can you hear me?” or a similar phrase in an effort to get the person on the other line to say “Yes.” That “Yes” can be recorded and used as voice authorization for charges without your knowledge. The FTC recommends immediately hanging up if you receive one of these calls. It’s better to hang up than to ask to speak to an operator or ask not to be called because that could simply lead to more calls.

You can also add yourself to the Do Not Call registry by calling 1-888-382-1222. The registry may not weed out all scammers, but it should help to reduce them.

3. The Grandparent Scam

This one is especially frustrating because it plays on a grandparent’s desire to help their grandchild. It involves a caller saying something like, “Do you know who this is?” or “Do you know which grandkid this is?” Then if the grandparent on the line provides a name, the caller plays along and describes a reason they need money, like being stuck in a foreign country, being in trouble, or needing money for medical expenses. The caller generally asks the grandparent not to tell anyone because the supposed grandchild doesn’t want to get in trouble.

Hang up on anyone who won’t provide their identity and don’t get sucked into a conversation. If you’re unwilling to hang up, don’t make any quick decisions and always make someone verify their own identity—never offer a name for them. Always take the time to call a grandchild’s parent or the grandchild’s known number, even if the caller claims the need is immediate.

4. Tech Support

It’s frightening when a red screen pops up on your computer and says you’ve been caught looking at porn and now have to pay $200 to unlock your computer—even if you’ve never so much as engaged in online bikini shopping. Scammers use shock and fear because they know it gets people to make quick, irrational decisions.

Older adults are targeted with fake offers of tech support for various issues either online, via email, or over the phone. Microsoft estimates about 3.3 million people in the United States fall victim to tech scams every year.

Protect yourself by installing pop-up blockers and anti-virus software on your computer. Know what brands you use and ignore communication from anyone else. Never give control of your computer to a third party over the computer or phone, even if they have a legitimate-looking caller ID. Be wary of anything claiming that your computer is in danger and never open email attachments from unknown sources.

5. Romance

The online dating scene is growing, and there are several legitimate dating sites that can help people of all ages make meaningful connections. If you are thinking about getting in the game online, don’t be discouraged, but do be mindful that romance fraud exists. Online dating sites often charge a monthly fee, but you should never agree to give money to someone you meet online.

If someone contacts you through a website, email, or phone and claims that you were “meant to be” but they need a little help financing a visit, report them. Romance scammers often claim that they’re from the United States but currently in another country. Do not give money to someone you met online even if you’ve been talking to them for months—some scammers play the long game.

6. Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the most time-consuming scams for victims to deal with. When someone gets your information, they can empty your bank account, charge your credit cards, and even run up medical bills. In 2015, almost half of identity theft victims were over 50.

If you are a victim of identity theft in the United States, visit identitytheft.gov to get information on what to do. Help keep your identity safe by not giving out personal information over the phone to someone you don’t know and keeping documents with your personal information secure. It’s also a good idea to review medical bills to make sure you’re only getting charged for services you actually received.

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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