Older adults are often targets of fraud and other crimes. Growing Bolder recently spoke with retired FBI Agent Lynn Billings to learn more about scams targeting seniors. Billings was a special agent for nearly 25 years. Her primary investigative experience focused on white-collar crimes, including the areas of finance, healthcare and public corruption.
Scams targeting seniors
1. Sweetheart Scams
“This was by far our No. 1 scam,” Billings said about romantic connections targeting widows or other older singles in a long-distance setting, preying on loneliness. Contact is typically made through online dating sites or social media. Often, it’s men targeting women pretending to befriend them, saying they feel an immediate or quick connection, and then relating a story with a financial need. Billings said the supposed financial need often involves a “huge contract” that the scammer says they are waiting for in order to receive a big payment. Other false excuses: a piece of equipment is broken and needs repair or slow earnings because of COVID-19. The end goal of resolving the “problem” is coming to see the targeted person.
Red Flags: Hastily expressed feelings and interest in establishing a relationship and a request for money via untraceable sources such as gift cards, cryptocurrency, or wire transfers.
2. Government Impersonator
The second most common scam, according to Billings, involves contact from someone impersonating a government agency, such as the Federal Trade Commission, Internal Revenue Service, or Social Security Administration. Examples include an FTC impersonator citing issues with your investment accounts, an IRS impersonator claiming you owe money, and a Social Security representative stating they are investigating an identity fraud in your name and requesting your date of birth and address for confirmation.
Red Flags: Each scenario dangles the threat, “You’re in trouble,” with the solution of paying a fee or providing information to resolve the issue. Initial communications from government agencies never include unsolicited calls, emails or texts.
3. Sweepstakes or Lottery Winnings
Another common scam against seniors, Billings said, is a contact that claims you won a sweepstakes or foreign lottery. The catch is you must pay a small fee for taxes or customs fees in order to receive the larger claims payment. Sometimes people receive a counterfeit check to pay these fees. The victim pays the scammer only to learn the check for the fees bounced.
Red Flag: Payment required up front. Legitimate winnings allow you to pay any fees or taxes from the lump-sum earnings.
4. Financial Abuse
Unfortunately, many seniors may be taken advantage of by individuals they know, including relatives, friends, caretakers, or even financial advisors, Billings said. Individuals gain the victim’s trust and then receive access to credit card numbers and bank accounts. Individuals may even pose as a grandchild who is hurt or needs money to be released from jail. Many seniors will provide funds or allow access to stop being harassed without realizing they are giving access that will allow someone access to large savings.
Red Flags: Undue pressure for money that requires access to accounts as well as mandates that the victim keep the transaction confidential.
5. Phishing Scams
Robo calls or text messages are the most common initial forms of communication in phishing scams that typically come out of the blue. In one common scenario, a person requests the senior’s help in accessing a large sum of money from a relative out of the United States. In exchange for allowing the transfer to his or her bank account, the victim will keep a large percentage of the funds. In another situation, the message is a threat that your account will be frozen unless a payment is made.
Red Flag: Unexpected contacts requesting account information or sending a link. Don’t click the link!
Important note: If you’ve been scammed before, your name will go into a database, and you will likely be contacted again.
“It’s big business,” Billings said. “If it sounds too good to be true, be very skeptical.”