Scammers are always coming up with new tactics, and some scams target seniors specifically. Scammers may target seniors because they are perceived as having more wealth or being less likely to report the crime. Fraudsters often rely on seniors' desire to have a good retirement, form close relationships later in life and care for family members. These are the top 10 scams to look out for in 2022:
1. The "Grandparent" Scam
The "Grandparent" Scam happens when a scammer reaches out to someone and pretends to be their grandchild. The scammer will often make up a distressful situation--such as being stuck in jail or behind on an important bill--and ask for financial assistance.
They might ask you to send money immediately using a wire transfer, or to buy gift cards and read off the card's information. To avoid raising suspicions from other family members, the scammer might ask you to keep everything a secret.
What to Do: Verify the situation by calling a family member who knows where your grandkid is right now. You could also ask the caller a few questions that only your actual grandchild would know how to answer.
2. Medicare Scams
Medicare scams involve scamming Medicare beneficiaries by claiming to be a Medicare representative and asking for personal and medical information. The scammer might tell you that you need a new Medicare card or offer you discounted additional coverage. But they'll then use or sell your personal and medical information for identity theft and medical identity theft.
Alternatively, some Medicare scams advertise free or low-cost services or equipment to seniors. But the scammers deliver shoddy services or equipment and then bill Medicare for the full amount.
3. Online Romance Scams
Romance scams occur when someone builds a romantic or platonic relationship with you and then starts asking you for money. The scammers might create complete social media profiles and have sophisticated backstories for their fake identities. Also, while dating sites are a common starting point, some scammers will approach you through social media or through online games.
The FTC reports that people lost $1.3 billion to romance scams in 2021 alone, more than in any other FTC fraud category. People of all ages fall victim to romance scams, but median losses for victims who are over 70 were $9,000--that's compared with the $750 for those ages 18 to 29.
It may be a long con, with someone taking weeks or months getting to know you before asking for anything. Once they do, the scammers may ask you to invest in a business proposition or send them money.
4. Employment and Money Mule Scams
Seniors who want to stay active and earn money may be looking for a new job, and scammers can target this group in several ways. You may come across promises for easy work-from-home jobs and be told that all you need to do is pay for training--you'll pay, but there isn't a real job available. Or, you might be asked for your personal information, which will then be used for illegal purposes.
Criminals will also look to recruit "money mules" through job ads and romance scams. As a money mule, you'll be asked to deposit funds into your bank account and transfer money to someone else. It may be legitimate in the sense that you'll be paid for the work. In reality though, you may be laundering criminals' funds, and you could be personally liable even if you aren't aware that you are doing something illegal.
5. Online Shopping Scams
Scammers set up websites that seem like legitimate storefronts but only exist to collect your payment information or sell you stolen goods. These sites can look surprisingly real, and you may come across them on social media or in websites' comments sections.
The FTC highlighted online shopping scams as the most frequent type of fraud that targets older adults in its annual report to Congress on protecting older adults for 2021. In some cases, these reports were for websites that sold them masks or other limited-supply items during the pandemic and then never delivered the products.
What to Do: You can look for red flags on websites you visit, such as surprisingly low prices and spelling errors.
6. Phone Scams
There are different types of phone scams targeting seniors, including robocalls that offer "free" medical supplements, devices, or discounts. But if you respond, you may be tricked or pressured into sharing your address, personal information, or a credit card account number. The scammers can then use these stolen credentials to commit credit card fraud.
Many other scams also start with a phone call, such as IRS imposter scams--when the scammer calls and claims that you owe taxes and could be sent to jail if you don't pay them right away. However, the IRS will never initiate contact by phone and won't ask for unusual payment methods, such as gift cards.
7. Home Repair Scams
Older adults may be more likely to own homes and be at home throughout the day, and scammers will knock on doors or make calls to offer home repair services. You might also be targeted if you live somewhere that was recently hit by a natural disaster. Or, the scammer might be selling home improvements, such as energy-efficient upgrades or solar panels that could save you money over time.
After accepting an initial deposit, the scammer may disappear or do subpar work that could lead to more trouble than help. Some scammers even try to get victims to apply for financing to cover the cost of the job.
8. Tech Support Scams
Tech support scams often start with a popup or online advertisement warning you that your device is infected or vulnerable. You may be prompted to install an update or new software, which turns out to be malicious software that can take over your device or steal your information.
In a different twist, you might be prompted to call tech support for help--but the tech support person could trick you into giving them control of your computer. Or, they may tell you that you need to pay for additional protection, support, or an upgrade.
9. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
You might get a call, email, text, or letter telling you that you won a prize or can enter into a sweepstake, but it's all made up. The scammers will often tell you that you need to pay upfront, perhaps to buy sweepstake tickets or to cover a processing fee. They'll keep the payment and you won't get anything in return. Additionally, they may also ask for your personal information, which they can then steal and use.
10. Charity Scams
A charity scam is when scammers persuade victims to send money to a fake charitable cause. They might pressure you to act quickly, and sometimes use a current event as a reason for why you need to send money right now.
What to Do: Before giving money away, you can research charities on sites like Charity Watch. If you want to donate, visit the official website or call the organization using the information from search results.