Aging Americans lose an estimated $36.5 billion each year to financial scams—and deceptive activity is especially high during the winter holiday season. Many older adults are trusting individuals with good credit and savings in the bank—qualities that make them likely targets for financial fraud. What’s more, scam victims are often too ashamed to report the crimes, making law enforcement efforts extra difficult.
Staying aware of the latest scams and the techniques perpetrators use to cheat unsuspecting individuals out of money and personal information could help keep you from becoming a victim. Here, then, are this season’s top cons and ways to avoid being cheated.
Nonprofit organizations often look to increase donations during the holiday season, when consumers are already in the giving spirit. So it’s common to receive phone calls or emails this time of year from charities requesting financial support. And it’s not unusual for scammers to pose as nonprofit representatives asking for money.
It’s wise to inform anyone seeking donations that you never make charitable contributions over the phone or by email. Tell the solicitor to send you printed information about the organization via US mail so you can review the request. However, never provide any personal information—including your address; a legitimate charity would likely have acquired your mailing address along with your phone number or email address.
Before donating money or providing personal information to a charity, it’s also a good idea to research the nonprofit organization with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at Give.org.
Online retailers frequently email promotional offers to customers who have recent purchases on their websites. Scam artists masquerading as popular retailers will send mass emails containing inauthentic deals, with links to look-a-like sites intended to trick people out of money.
Carefully read any emails regarding sales, gift cards, or other special offers. Look for spelling errors and other signs that the website was hastily launched. Review the sender's email address to make certain it contains the retailer’s website address. If you have any misgivings about the information sent to you, call the store directly and ask whether the email you received is genuine.
In early 2018, the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) began mailing new cards to all Medicare recipients. At the same time, scammers pretending to be Medicare representatives started calling older adults and falsely stating that the new cards require an upfront fee. The crooks are hoping to get unsuspecting Medicare recipients to disclose personal, bank account, or credit card information over the phone by claiming the information is needed to process the fee.
CMS issued the following warning:
Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to give us personal or private information to get your new Medicare Number and card.
Scam artists may try to get personal information (like your current Medicare Number) by contacting you about your new card. If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, hang up and call us at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
Another widespread scam involves automated phone messages left by someone claiming to be an Internal Revenue Service employee. The official-sounding messages accuse recipients of committing tax fraud and instructs them to immediately contact the IRS to avoid prosecution. At the phone number provided, IRS impersonators try to trick responders into sharing personal information—including their social security numbers—or sending cash payments.
It’s important to remember that the IRS will notify you about problems with your taxes only by mail, and not through unsolicited phone calls, emails, or text messages. Therefore, if someone contacts you claiming to be from the IRS, do not return the call. Instead, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
Older adults should always be cautious when receiving phone calls or emails that request money or personal information. Scams are difficult to trace and could leave you facing a heavy financial burden. If you suspect that you are the target of a financial scam, contact local authorities, your bank, and family members for help.