Scams geared towards seniors are nothing new; fraudsters have targeted the senior community in many different ways over the years. The pandemic has further opened the door for senior scams, with predators taking advantage of the isolation and uncertainty that COVID-19 has inflicted on our lives.
From more people being forced to make online purchases to confusion surrounding the stimulus checks, thieves have been working overtime to bilk seniors out of their hard-earned dollars. Beware these five scams that target seniors:
Medicare & Social Security Scams
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Medicare and Social Security scams were on the rise, with people around the country reporting that they received phone calls from the “Social Security Administration,” or “Medicare Office.” Although these departments are real, they will never call you asking for sensitive information, like your Social Security number or Medicare ID number, over the phone.
In the wake of the pandemic, however, Medicare and Social Security scams have increased, necessitating seniors to go on high alert should a phone call come in from one of these offices. Should you receive one of these calls, keep an eye out for red flags, such as:
Asking for your Medicare ID number
Requiring you to give out your full Social Security number (most legitimate establishments will only request the last four digits as a way to authenticate your account)
Asking you to make a payment over the phone with your credit card
If you’re unsure about whether a phone call is, in fact, a scam, you can ask the person on the other end of the line for a phone number to call them back or ask to speak to a manager. If they hang up on you, it’s definitely a scam.
Bogus Stimulus Checks
It’s estimated that over 1 million people still have not received their stimulus check from the government, and that is leaving a gap for scammers to fill. The IRS initially sent money directly to those who had filed 2018 and 2019 tax returns and chosen to pay or receive a refund with direct deposit. It took them almost 6 weeks to send out checks and Visa debit cards in the mail, which of course, can sometimes get lost.
Although it’s perfectly normal for you to call the IRS to inquire about your lost stimulus check, it’s a major red flag when someone “from the IRS” calls you. According to the Federal Trade Commision (FTC), scammers might ask you to pay a fee in order to receive your stimulus payment or try to convince you to give them sensitive information, like your Social Security number or bank account number.
The FTC notes that “the IRS won’t contact you by phone, email, text message, or social media with information about your stimulus payment, or to ask you for your Social Security number, bank account, or government benefits debit card account number. Anyone who does is a scammer phishing for your information.” Be sure to report any strange calls from the “IRS” to the FTC directly.
Fake Coronavirus Cure
Researchers and pharmaceutical companies across the globe are currently working on developing a cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, however, nothing has been approved yet. That fact has not stopped fraudsters from trying to trick people into thinking that they’ve created a miracle vaccine.
The FTC has sent warning letters to over 160 individuals and organizations that require them to stop making false claims and/or selling fake products. They’ve discovered a wide range of scams, including “listening to a music CD of frequencies to resist the Coronavirus, taking high doses of intravenous vitamin C, using Chinese herbs, acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, ozone therapy, bio-electric shields, HEPA air purifiers, UV light therapy, and more,” all of which are unproven.
Should you receive a call or see an advertisement that promotes a miracle cure for coronavirus before hearing about it on the news, do not invest any money in it, for it is surely a scam.
Phishing, when you receive an email that looks like it is from a legitimate source but is actually a ruse to collect your information, is a popular scam that has been around for years. Some phishing scammers are so good, it’s hard to tell when an email might be fake. In fact, during the 2016 election it was revealed that John Podesta, the head of a Presidential campaign, had fallen for a phishing scam that ultimately led to his email being hacked by the Russians.
According to the FBI, reports of phishing scams have been “record-breaking” as a result of the pandemic. They’ve identified a few key schemes that are trending right now, including emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) boasting to have information about the virus with bogus attachments for you to click on, fake charitable organizations asking for donations, and about airline carrier refunds that do not actually exist.
In order to protect yourself from these phishing scams, the FBI recommends the following:
Do not open attachments or click links within emails from senders you don't know.
Do not provide personal information like your username, password, date of birth, social security number, financial data to an email or robocall.
Always verify the web address of legitimate websites and manually type them into your browser.
Check for misspellings or wrong domains within a link (for example, an address that should end in a ".gov" ends in .com" instead).
If you believe that yourself or a loved one has fallen victim to a phishing scam, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
For those who like to play the stock market, beware of investment scams right now. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has issued an alert to warn Main Street investors about scams related to COVID-19. Some of the concerning investment activity they recommend to be wary of includes:
Claims that products or services can prevent, detect, or treat COVID-19, or help to solve issues resulting from the current pandemic if you are investing in a company, especially in a microcap or penny stock.
Promises of high investment returns with little or no risk, unregistered professionals, aggressive sales tactics, and other red flags. Be particularly vigilant of fraudsters taking advantage of the volatile markets to tout “safe” or “bottomed out” investments in companies that purportedly have interests in commodities such as gold, silver, or oil and gas, for example.
Community-based financial frauds, also called affinity frauds, target members of identifiable groups, including people with common ties based on ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, military service, and age. These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist within groups.
Spoofed websites selling fake CDs may offer high interest rates with no penalties for early withdrawals, promote only CDs (and no other financial products), require high minimum deposits, direct investors to wire funds abroad or to an account with a different name than the listed financial institution, claim the deposits are FDIC-insured, and identify “clearing partners” purportedly registered with the SEC.
General Rule: Stick to What (And Who) You Know
There are certainly more senior scams out there than are listed in this article, however, knowing how to protect yourself from scams aimed at seniors can help you avoid financial ruin down the road.