Unfortunately for older adults, we’re genetically programmed to be more trusting as we age, making us the prime targets of fraudsters.
In fact, by some estimates, older Americans are defrauded by over $12.5 billion annually. Here are some of the more common scams out there. The lesson is simple – don’t abandon your trusting outlook on life, just add a dose of healthy skepticism - serious skepticism.
1. IRS Impersonator
This is actually the number one scam right now. You get a call, or a message, from the IRS saying that you owe back taxes and that if you don’t pay them right away legal action will be taken immediately. Sometimes scammers even have the word IRS on your call display to add legitimacy, making themselves look really legitimate. Scary stuff.
Here’s how you fight it. First, understand that the IRS always opens up a case by sending you a letter delivered by the U.S. postal service first. If you’ve never received a letter chances are the call is fraud. Second, let the person calling you know you will call them back. If it really is the IRS, they won't mind at all. Simply call them back at the official IRS number 800-829-1040, identify yourself and they will be able to tell you if they had called and the nature of the call – you can see their number right here in the IRS’ official site https://www.irs.gov/help-resources/telephone-assistance.
2. Political Scammer
This one is also becoming more common, especially in our increasingly politically charged landscape. Here’s how it works. Someone calls, telling you they’re working on behalf of a political party, candidate or political cause. They then ask for your support through a donation. There is literally no way for you to tell over the phone if they are legitimate or not – so do not let yourself get convinced.
Even if they only ask for $10 you expose yourself to two potential fraud events – the theft of $10, and your credit or debit card information. Sometimes scammers will deduct small amounts monthly over years.
Here’s how you fight it. Just don’t give over the phone.
3. Charity Scammer
Playing on people’s emotions is a popular scamming technique. That’s why scammers love to impersonate charities, we’re naturally inclined to trust and to want to help – and we feel guilty if we don’t.
The challenge here is that many legitimate charities also use the phone to raise money – so how can you tell the difference between the fraudsters and the good guys? You can’t.
If you want to give, go to the charity’s website and donate online, or call the number from the website to give over the phone if that’s your preference. However, if it’s not a well known charity, first check on https://www.charitynavigator.org/ to make sure it’s a legitimate charity and they’re spending your money wisely. There’s no sense in giving to a charity that uses 70% of the funds raised to line management's pockets.
4. Fake Lottery Winner
This scam plays on our emotions as well – the elation that comes from winning - seniors seem to be particularly vulnerable to this one. This is how it works, you receive a call saying you’ve won the lottery. All you have to do is pay the insurance or claims fee, before the winnings can be sent to you.
Don’t buy it!!! You know there’s no free lunch right? If it sounds too good to be true it is, right? Yes and yes.
If you want to throw your caller for a loop, simply ask him or her where they are located and tell them you’d like to pick up the check in person. If they say that can’t be done – run a long. Or if you want to have fun with them, simply tell them to deduct the insurance fee from your winnings and send the check.
Better yet, just hang-up when someone calls you and tells you you’ve won free money - but you have to pay for it - it doesn't happen.
5. Dating Scammer
Everyone deserves a little love in their lives. But watch out for the praying mantis. Online dating provides scammers with the perfect opportunity to build trust, while staying completely anonymous.
We’ve heard of the catphishing scams where people pretend to be someone their not and in the end trick you into a fake emotional or romantic relationship for financial purposes. Many scammers are even using faith-based dating sites to increase the level of trust and deception.
Bottom line, never wire money to anyone you’ve never met in person – never. If they keep stalling and can never meet in person, steer clear, there are lots of fish in the sea.