5 scams that target older people

  1. The Grandparent Scam

Scams can be particularly effective when they prey upon the love a grandparent has for their grandchildren. A common scam involves calling an older person and pretending to be a grandchild in distress. After catching the victim off guard, the fraudster will often ask for money to be transferred to another account immediately. Thieves will sometimes visit a victim’s Facebook page to learn the names of family members so they can sound more believable on the call. A scammer might also ask a grandparent for personal or financial information for purposes of identity fraud.

If you receive a call from a grandchild telling you they need your help and asking you to immediately provide them funds or disclose personal financial information, wait before you act. Ask your grandchild a few questions to which only they would know the answers to ensure you are truly speaking with a family member.

Also, be sure to set your Facebook settings to private, including your friends’ list, so that strangers cannot access your social media posts or other personal information.

2. Sweepstakes Scams

The internet breathed new life into this old-school scam. In the case of a sweepstakes scam, a fraudster will use social media, email, or text a cell number (often obtained through social media) to contact the older person. They tell their victim they have won a sweepstake and must send a “small” payment to unlock the prize. Scammers often use the name of a well-known or respected charity to sound more legitimate. In some cases, the scammer will go as far as to send the victim a check for a large sum of money, but when the victim attempts to cash the check, they learn it’s a fake.

To avoid falling victim to the sweepstakes scam, or other, similar scams, never react to unsolicited emails, phone calls, or texts until you have independently verified they are from a legitimate source. Also, never provide money or personal information to strangers. Before responding to an unsolicited request, contact the organization in question to ask for verification.

And remember, because many scams are widely and repeatedly used, often other victims have already posted online about similar experiences. A quick search of the sweepstake offer you received might turn up a list of warnings from others who were targeted by the same scam.

3. Medicare Scams

Medicare scams cost taxpayers billions of dollars each year. The government advises Medicare recipients to treat their Medicare card the same way they would treat a credit card: always keep it in your possession and hidden from public view. Do not send your Medicare number to anyone via unsecured email, which can be intercepted by hackers. And remember, Medicare workers will never call, email, or text you with sales offers nor will they show up at your door unannounced. Never give your Medicare number to anyone other than a trusted healthcare provider.

4. Health and Anti-Aging Scams

There is an endless stream of new products on the internet every day promising relief from aches, pains, hormonal changes, hair loss, wrinkles, and loss of energy. Many of these so-called “miracle products” are not only fake and useless, but their makers are intent on locking victims into “subscription deals” where they are promised a discount in return for incurring monthly charges on their credit cards.

Be wary of any company offering a “free” sample that asks for your credit card information “for shipping and handling charges.” Often this is a ploy to lock a victim into subscribing to a fake product that does not work. Canceling the orders can be difficult, as contact information for the company is sometimes not readily available and/or attempts to contact the corporate office go unanswered.

In cases where you cannot find a way to cancel a subscription you do not want, contact your credit card company instead. Sometimes they will even be able to get you a refund if they find you were unfairly charged.

5. Government Impersonation and IRS Scams

Government impersonation scams have become extremely popular and successful in recent years. Usually, the caller will pretend to be an IRS agent demanding payment for unpaid taxes under threat of criminal arrest. Other times a scammer will claim to be calling from the Social Security Administration and will inform the victim they were “overpaid” and must return the funds immediately or face prosecution.

If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a government official who is threatening you or demanding money for taxes or other benefit programs, hang up immediately and call the office in question yourself. And remember: ONLY SCAMMERS demand you make payments by mobile apps, wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or gift cards.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of Medicare fraud, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol at 877–808–2468 or visit SMPresource.org.

If you’ve been a victim of fraud or believe you’ve been targeted by a scammer, report it at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Visit our website at VermontElders.org

Community of Vermont Elders (COVE) promotes and protects a higher quality of life for the state’s older Vermonters.