Be vigilant about scams targeting seniors

Christel Deskins

Senior citizens are a prime target for scammers. Many are on a fixed income, but they may have a lifetime of savings in the bank. While you may not be able to see your loved ones right now, please check on them and make sure they are not being taken […]

Senior citizens are a prime target for scammers. Many are on a fixed income, but they may have a lifetime of savings in the bank. While you may not be able to see your loved ones right now, please check on them and make sure they are not being taken advantage of by fraudsters.

The coronavirus pandemic has given scammers new ways to try to trick senior citizens into giving them their hard-earned money. Fraudsters have tried to peddle cures and home testing kits, sometimes trying to obtain the consumers’ Medicare or Medicaid information. Seniors have been targeted with various COVID “stimulus” offers, one of which came under scrutiny of the Federal Trade Commission and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

A Springfield, Missouri, woman reported in April 2020 that she was targeted by scammers claiming to be with Medicare. The woman said she was offered free COVID testing kits and later received two items in the mail despite not having asked for anything. She said she returned the items to the sender without opening them.

The 2019 Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker Risk Report showed that while seniors were less likely to be scammed, those who were duped lost more money than any other age group, with a median loss of $350. By comparison, consumers ages 18-34 lost between $100-$111.

Financial scams often go unreported and can be difficult to prosecute so they are considered a “low-risk” crime. The effects, however, can be devastating and leaves seniors in a vulnerable position with little time to recoup their losses.

The following are popular scams designed to trick consumers, especially older generations, into giving up their money, property or personal information:

The Grandparent Scam: In this scam, a person calls an older adult pretending to be a relative who’s been involved in an accident or legal trouble and needs money immediately. Scammers mine social media websites for information. If you have an older relative on social media, make sure to help them with their privacy settings so that they don’t fall victim.

Social Security Spoofing Calls: There has been a significant uptick in fraudulent phone calls from people claiming to represent the Social Security Administration and other agencies. They may even “spoof” the actual Social Security hotline number to appear on the recipient’s caller ID. In the calls, the scammer threatens legal action or say they face arrest if they fail to call a provided phone number or press the number indicated in the message. Sometimes they may even switch tactics and say that they want to help an individual activate a suspended social security number — what they are really after is personal information. During the COVID pandemic, scammers have mimicked the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies. BBB issued an in-depth investigative study on these scams in June 2020.

Door-to-Door Sales Scams: People who go door-to-door offering extremely low prices for home improvement work may be scammers. Seniors are specifically targeted because they are more likely to be home to answer the door and they may be physically unable to do maintenance around their home. These scammers are often transient, and often cannot be reached after money has been exchanged.

Investment Schemes: Scammers target seniors after retirement because they know that plans are being made to safeguard finances for their later years. Be wary of investment schemes promising quick and plentiful returns. If it’s too good to be true, then beware. Also, the higher the return, the more risk is often being taken.

BBB warns consumers to be aware that scammers often look for people who have already been scammed in the past. If you’ve been a victim once, chances are you’ll be called again by other scammers.

For assistance, visit bbb.org or call 888-996-3887.

Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.

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