Seniors are targeted everyday through e-mail, regular mail, and the telephone.
Nearly every scam is designed to trick you into either sending money or providing your personal information.
The first way scammers do this is to get you to believe something good will happen to you (like winning a prize) if you do as they say. The other is by scaring you into believing something terrible has or will happen to you — like your home will be foreclosed on or you will be arrested — if you don’t do as they say. In either case, through kindness or bullying they try to get you to send them money or disclose your personal financial information.
Remember, no legitimate government agency, business, or organization will make unsolicited contact with you and then ask you to provide your personal information. Nor will any legitimate prize give-away, government grant, lottery, or sweepstakes require you to pay anything up front to claim your winnings.
Check the name!
Email and online scammers will often name their “company” something very similar to a well-known company. These scammers are trying to trick and confuse their victims. They want you to think you’re dealing with a reputable business. Pay close attention to their name and contact information and make sure it really matches online info of the reputable business you think you are dealing with. For example Chase Bak www.chase.com could have the following fake variations:
- Slight variation (e.g., chasebank.com)
- Missing dot, which removes a dot from the domain name (e.g., chasecom).
- Singularization or pluralization, which adds or removes “s” at the end of the domain name (e.g., chases.com)
What to do?
Your best protection against scammers making unsolicited contact with you is to hang up and not respond to their attempts to steal your money or good name. Hang-up your phone, shred the correspondence, delete the email, or shut your door and call the police. Remember the old adage, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!”
Here are several types of scams you should be aware of:
- “Grandparent” or “Family Emergency” Imposter Scams
Picture this: You’re unwinding before bed, watching your favorite TV show, when suddenly your phone rings. On the other end is a frantic caller, “Grandma! I need your help. I’ve been in an accident and need you to send me money right away!” It might be natural to want to help, and that’s exactly what scammers are counting on. Variations on this scam include:
Legal Trouble – Someone claiming to be your grandchild, a police officer, or attorney calls to tell you that your loved one is in jail, and they need you to provide cash to bail them out as soon as possible.
Medical Trouble – In this scenario, the caller claims that your loved one is seriously injured or sick. Then they ask for you to send money to pay for the medical bills.
International Trouble – Your grandchild is in trouble in a foreign country, or so the caller on the other end says. While they can’t explain right now, it would be helpful if you sent them a large sum of cash immediately.
What can you do? If you receive a suspicious call, consider the following:
Take your time – Scammers want you to rush, and they will upset you to impair your thinking. Give yourself space to think about their story and request – tell them you will call back and hang up.
Verify the facts – After you hang up, think about what the caller told you on the phone, does it make sense? If it seems plausible, call your loved one directly at a number you have for them. Don’t call any numbers provided by the person who called you. With any luck, your loved one will answer. If you are unable to reach them, call family members and friends who might know something (even if the caller told you not to). If the caller claims to be from a business, organization or law enforcement, look them up online. Then call them directly using the number provided on their website and ask if they called you.
Think twice before providing money – If you didn’t initiate the call, you don’t know who’s on the other end. No matter how convincing the story, it is best to not send any money at all. Scammers may tell you to mail a cashier’s check or money order. Or use a digital service like peer-to-peer payment apps or cryptocurrency. Some even stop at people’s homes to pick up cash.
Bottom line: Slow down – don’t react too quickly and if they ask you to wire money or buy gift cards, it’s certainly a scam.
- Romance Scams
Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim. Here’s how it works: you meet someone great online – either on social media or through a dating app. Their profile is impressive, and they’re quick to compliment you. Your relationship moves quickly, and you soon want to meet in person, but it never works out. Then, after some time, they ask you for money for a personal emergency. Be very cautious before giving them money. If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using your account to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.
Bottom line: Never give your credit card number OR send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
- Tech Support Scams
Out of nowhere, you receive a call or a screen pops up on your computer, pretending to be from a reputable company like Microsoft or an anti-virus company. They tell you that they have detected a virus or an error on your computer and probably warn that you will lose all of your data if you shut down or restart your computer. In order to fix your computer, they direct you to a website where they instruct you to click on a link, download software, or input a special code, which allows them access to your computer. Sometimes they “scan” your computer to try to convince you there is something wrong. Don’t believe them! Remember: real tech support or other computer companies don’t just contact you out of the blue.
Don’t give them access to your computer! If you do, the scammer can look on your computer for your personal or financial information, add malware that really will infect your computer, or add spyware so they can get your information in the future. Instead, try exiting the internet, restarting your computer, or manually pressing the “off” button on your computer. Or try contacting a reputable source for help. Be careful though when searching for businesses on the internet – sometimes illegitimate services have paid for ads and created websites that might lead you to think they are the real thing!
Bottom line: Don’t let anyone gain access to your computer that you don’t know and trust.
- Cash Advance/Advance Fee Scams
A cash advance scam — aka, an advance fee scam — asks for money upfront in order to get a loan or receive some other benefit. Scammers may promise you some kind of benefit: a loan, a prize like a foreign lottery, a government grant, an inheritance, an opportunity to work from home, or more. The catch is, they want payment up front before you can receive your benefit. Sometimes they will ask for a payment by wire transfer, online payment, or even gift cards. Stop and think – why are you having to pay to receive this benefit? Are you being asked by a source you know and trust?
Bottom line: You should never PAY money to receive a benefit you did not initiate.
- Lotteries & Sweepstakes
“Winners” are asked to send money to receive the winnings. Any number of explanations could be given. They may say you have won a lottery in a foreign country. They may say it is for taxes, processing fees, or the cost of transferring funds. Scammers know that the amount they are asking for sounds trifling compared to the amount the victim thinks he or she is about to receive when the prize is paid. The prize is never going to appear, so the victim will simply lose the money he or she sends in.
Remember: You can’t win a lottery or sweepstakes that you didn’t even enter. And it’s It is illegal for you to receive proceeds of a foreign lottery. (But you are not going to receive anything anyway.)
Bottom line: No legitimate lottery or sweepstakes requires money up front for you to collect a prize you have won.
- Counterfeit Cashier’s Checks
Scammers will sometimes send a fake check — cashier’s check, personal check, money order, etc. — and ask you to cash it and then send them the money. When you are being asked to deposit a check under suspicious circumstances, and return a portion to a stranger, beware – even it it’s a cashier’s check. We are often taught that cashier’s checks are safe to accept, but the reality is that forgeries can be very convincing even to bank tellers. This scam plays on your generosity and compassion. A stranger will approach you — often at a bank location — and ask you to cash a check for them. “I don’t have an account at this bank,” they’ll say, “and I need someone to cash the check for me and give me the money.” The trick? The check is no good. But it’ll take a day or two for you to discover that. The money you pulled out to pay this stranger ends up being paid with your money, not the bad check. They’re long gone, and you’re left without anything to show for your kindness.
Bottom line: Don’t cash a check for anyone, especially a stranger.
- Travel Tips and Scams
Many time-share resorts and travel clubs offer vacation packages and travel specials. Some offers come unsolicited, saying you have been “selected” to receive a “free vacation” provided you attend a company’s sales seminar. Before committing to a promotional offer, ask for it in writing, check the cancellation and refund policies, and read the fine print. Pay special attention to asterisks or footnotes. These often indicate restrictions such as limitations on the length of your stay or prohibitions on certain days or times of departure. You may also find that you will be responsible for additional charges like transportation fees and taxes.
Do independent research – promises of “five-star” hotels sometimes in actuality turn out to be cramped rooms with bad food and questionable facilities. If you complain, you may get an “upgrade” for a much higher price that you will then have to pay. Request information directly from the hotel in question and ask what features they include with your package. Also ask the vacation promoter whether you can make your own travel arrangements if the designated hotel is booked.
Bottom line: Don’t attend high-pressure sales presentations in exchange for a gift.
- Foreign Money Exchange (aka the Nigerian Prince Scam) Scams
If you have an email address, there is a good chance that at some point you received a message from a member of the Nigerian royal family. Believe it or not, you are related to Nigerian royalty. Sadly, this royal relative you’ve never heard of has passed. Amazingly, they included you in their will and, once you give over your bank information, their estate will send you millions!
The official writing you is a “government minister” (or his widow), a lawyer representing a deceased client from a foreign country, or a business owner wants to deposit money from a foreign country in your bank account. You just have pay a small transaction fee or tax first. There are many variations on the same theme but they all have a similar catch. First, you must pay their “transaction fees” or “taxes.” The dream of a huge sum of money is very alluring, but there is no money. It’s fake. The truth is that they want to take your money, so do not respond.
This scam began in the 1970 and was sent through the mail. It has grown with the times, spreading to faxes in the ’80s and ’90s and onward to text messages, email, Internet gaming, matchmaking sites, apps, and social media. Even people off the grid aren’t safe; these scammers also go door-to-door.
Bottom line: Anytime you have to send money to collect a huge windfall, DON’T; it’s a scam.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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