Senior citizens scammed, lose millions reads the headline. It’s true, seniors, one of our most vulnerable populations, lose millions to telephone fraudsters every year. Instead of living out their years in peace and tranquility, many aged see their life savings gone.
Senior Citizens Scammed: How It Works
The government is on the phone, here to help keep you from getting in big trouble — but you’d better hand over some cash quickly. And do it by wire transfer or gift card.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that consumers lost nearly $488 million to what it calls “imposter scams” in 2018. Fraudsters pretending they’re from the government represent the biggest share of the impostor cons, according to the FTC report.
Other impostor scams come follow similar scripts. For example, people saying they are from a business; that they are helping your family or friends; or that they are from a technical support team working to fix your computer.
Senior citizen victims of impostor scams lost hundreds of dollars apiece in 2018 says the FTC. Seniors aged 80+ reported a median loss of $1,700, compared with $751 for those in their 70s and $600 for those in their 60s.
How The Fraudsters Do It
The scammers use techniques that are anonymous, quick and irretrievable.
For example, a scammer calls and says, “You’re in trouble and you need to do something about it,” says Monica Vaca, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Consumer Response and Operations. “People tend to get really nervous and tend to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.”
Unfortunately, seniors take this seriously and fall for the bait.
Overall, those in their 60s reported the highest total fraud losses to the FTC in 2018 at $184 million, followed by those in their 50s at $168 million and in their 40s at $158 million.
Those in their 70s reported total fraud losses of $128 million and those 80 and older, $79 million.
How can senior citizens protect themselves against telephone fraudsters?
Here are several tips and recommendations from the Federal Trade Commission:
- Watch for red flags. The Social Security Administration is not going to telephone you out of the blue and ask for your Social Security number. In most cases, government agencies do not call consumers but contact them by postal mail. Hang up if someone claiming to be from a government agency threatens to have you arrested.
- Be aware of fraudster techniques. If a caller asks you to wire-transfer money or put money on a gift card, then asks you to call back and give them the card number, resist. “Take a moment and just pause,” Vaca says. Tell someone — a trusted friend or family member — about the caller before acting. “Saying it out loud helps people recognize that it’s fraud,” she says.
- Never pay somebody with a gift card over the phone. Gift cards are for gifts and should not be used to give money to scammers, Vaca says. Callers who claim they are trying to help you are con artists. “They’re trading on your trust, their ability to gain your trust.”
- Avoid panicking when a caller threatens you. “These con artists are really, really good at what they do,” Vaca says. “If you’ve fallen into a panic situation, pause.”
Report complaints of fraud to www.ftc.gov/complaint.