Scams: The Elderly and What We Can Do to Help

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Few things are as heartbreaking as learning that someone took advantage of your elderly loved one and scammed them out of their money and/or personal information. An unfortunate reality of the modern age is that our tech devices may be secure, but scammers can still use social engineering to trick users out of their sensitive information. Oftentimes, scammers will target the elderly because on average, they are not as aware of the various online scamming methods so they are seen as more vulnerable targets. The popularity of these “senior scams” are on the rise so the big questions are: how do I help my loved one who was a victim of a scam and how do I prevent them from getting scammed again in the future?

How do I help my elderly loved one who was a victim of a scam?

If you believe an elderly loved one is the victim of a senior scam, the first thing you should do is show them support. Getting scammed can make a person feel aggravated, disheartened, and even embarrassed so it is important to remember that this person is a victim and they did not do anything to be ashamed about. It is possible that the senior victim has lost enough money to the point that they may become dependent on children, grandchildren, or other relatives to get by. If you cannot support them financially, make attempts to be there for them socially and morally as a person they can talk to and rely on. The next step is to alert your loved one’s bank about any suspicious activity linked to their accounts. With enough evidence of fraudulent activity and your cooperation with the bank’s professionals, it is possible that your loved one will be reimbursed for any money that was taken as a result of a scam.

How do I prevent myself/my loved one from getting scammed in the future?

The best way to protect your loved one and yourself from future scams is prevention through education. If you both know what to look out for when it comes to these senior scams then you are less likely to be a victim of similar scams in the future. Listed below are some of the more popular scamming methods that target senior citizens nowadays:

  • Sweepstakes and lottery scams – scammers will notify a target through an email, text, or voicemail that they just won a sweepstakes or lottery and they trick that person into giving them money by asking the supposed winner to pay up front for “processing fees” or to “verify their payment information.” These are fake sweepstakes and lotteries and no prize will get delivered no matter how many times the scammers notify you that the prize is “arriving soon.”
  • Government impersonation scams – scammers often defraud their victims by pretending to be legitimate government institutions like the IRS, the Social Security Administration, or Medicare. It is understandable that senior citizens would comply with these scams when they believe it is actually the government requesting their payment or information. Educate your elderly loved one that it is possible for scammers to impersonate government institutions so they should double check the content and source of these suspicious messages. When in doubt, seniors should reach out to the organizations directly by finding their customer support email or phone number on their professional website and NOT from the supposed “contact info” listed on the suspicious message. Nowadays, governments recognize scammers will impersonate their organizations so a lot of legitimate messages from these organizations will include a reminder along the lines of “WE WILL NEVER ASK YOU FOR YOUR PASSWORD.”
  • Tech support scams – scammers take advantage of the fact that on average, senior citizens are less tech savvy than the younger generations so seniors are more likely to place their full trust in someone who claims they can help them with their computer or smartphone issues. This is where the social engineering comes into play: scammers will pretend to be tech support and can even stay on the phone with a senior citizen for hours to build trust before they pull the rug out from underneath them and take away their victim’s money, login information, or even both before altering the credentials so the senior can no longer access their accounts. Big technology companies recognize this issue so their legitimate customer support methods will come with multiple reminders of their own like “WE WILL NEVER ASK YOU FOR YOUR PASSWORD” and recommendations to use two-factor authentication. If possible, try to use two-factor authentication for sensitive accounts so scammers cannot hack accounts if they manage to steal some of the login information.

Methods to scam the elderly are constantly evolving but the most important thing to remember is that the best protection is prevention. If your elderly loved one gets in the habit of verifying any online notification they get for legitimacy, then they will stop a lot of potential scammers in their tracks before they even get started. If you come across a senior scam, be sure to spread the word to any seniors in your inner circle and beyond so they too can equip themselves with knowledge and best practices to make their online experiences more enjoyable and scam-free.