Courtesy of Travelers Insurance

Cell phone scams are common and, unfortunately, senior citizens often are a target for cybercrime perpetrated through smartphones. Understanding the technology at your fingertips and knowing how to recognize potentially harmful information can help you identify and avoid fraudulent activities. Learn how to keep yourself and your finances safe with these tips:

Be Aware: 6 Common Against Seniors

Knowing the common scams that target seniors can help you learn how to avoid them. Learning more will also aid you in determining if you or an elderly loved one might already be a victim. Here are examples of common smartphone fraud scams on the elderly:[1]

1. Romance Scams

In a romance scam, the scammer contacts the senior through email, social media or direct messaging in an attempt to establish a connection. In 2020 alone, American seniors lost $139 million as a result of romance scams.[2] These scammers take advantage of seniors who feel lonely or isolated. Carrying on a phony romantic virtual relationship with the senior until they’ve gained trust and affection, the scammer then asks for money under false pretenses. They may convince you or your loved one to pay for their travel or help them through a financial crisis. This can continue for as long as the senior is willing to continue sending money.

2. Technology Troubleshooting, Repair & Support Scams

In these scams, the culprit poses as a tech support professional, sending an email, message or a pop-up that claims there’s something wrong with the senior’s computer. When the senior agrees to let them fix it, the scammer gains virtual access to the computer and all the sensitive information on it, including passwords and saved payment methods. This criminal can then steal the senior’s identity and/or their money, draining bank accounts or racking up charges on credit cards. As of 2019, seniors targeted with these types of tech support scams lost a median of $400 per person.[3]

3. Family Scams

For many seniors, family is a priority. Many scammers rely on that sentiment to perpetrate their crimes. This type of scammer calls or sends a message to a senior pretending to be a relative in need, often a child or a grandchild.[4] The scammer may say they’re stranded or are in some sort of trouble that requires money to fix. The victim sends this “relative” money, sometimes more than one payment, only to discover later that the recipient wasn’t their relative at all.

4. Government Intimidation Scams

In this frequently encountered scam, the fraudster impersonates a government official in an effort to extort money or sensitive information from the senior via phone call, text message, direct message or email. They may claim to be from the Social Security Administration, IRS, Medicare or a similar agency, and they state that the senior owes the department a large sum of money. They typically threaten the senior with termination of benefits, fines or legal charges to coerce them into paying.

5. Donation or Winnings Scams

Another common scam against seniors deals with false donations or winnings. The scammer will pretend to be a representative of a legitimate charitable organization, asking for donations and then keeping the money they receive or stealing the donor’s financial information. In a winnings scam, the senior is told they have won a lottery, sweepstakes or giveaway, and that they just need to pay a fee to collect their winnings.[5] Typically, no reputable agency requires a fee to collect winnings.

6. Commercials/Ad Scams

Other scams come in the form of ads and commercials, such as those that appear on websites or during commercial breaks when someone is streaming media online. These false advertisements promote seemingly legitimate services like reverse mortgages, but the senior won’t receive the service for which they pay. Instead, scammers will pocket the money or steal the senior’s personal identification and financial information.

What to Do If You Are Being Scammed

If you discover that you are being scammed, you can take steps to minimize the damage. Cancel any credit cards or debit cards that might have been compromised, and check your purchase history, reporting any fraudulent charges to your bank or credit card company immediately. In many cases, these institutions can reverse or halt recent fraudulent transactions. If a payment was made through a wire transfer, gift card or money transfer app, report the fraud to the company that issued the transfer or gift card. If money was sent through the mail, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877.876.2455 and ask them to intercept the package.[6]

If you gave the scammer personal information, take steps to monitor and protect your identity. Contact all major credit bureaus and file a fraud alert,[7] and look into identity theft protection services, which may be offered through your credit card company. If the scammer gained access to your computer or phone, run regular security software scans, and change all your important account passwords that might have been compromised. Remember to write the new passwords down so you can continue to access your accounts. If your phone account was taken over, contact your service provider right away.

How to Report Senior Citizen Scams

After you’ve identified the scam, your next step should be to report the scam to relevant authorities.[8] Doing so helps these agencies monitor scam trends, track down criminals and create targeted educational pieces to better protect seniors from scams. You should report senior citizen scams to:

● the FBI

● National Adult Protective Services Association

● the Federal Trade Commission

● the National Elder Fraud Hotline

● your local authorities

If the scammer was pretending to be from a government agency, like Medicare, report it to that agency’s fraud division, too.

Protect Yourself from Cellphone Scams

Your first line of defense against smartphone scams is awareness. Practice safe smartphone use by not clicking on unfamiliar links, being wary of unsolicited communications from sources you do not know, and avoiding the temptation to click on ads or pop-ups from unfamiliar sources while browsing online. If fraud does occur, report it immediately to your relevant financial institutions and the agencies mentioned above. Swift action may help you to recover lost assets and avoid further damage to your personal information and finances. 

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