Scams that target older adults are all too common. Scammers often target seniors through various means, including phone calls, emails, and even in-person interactions, with the goal of tricking you into providing personal or financial information.

Fortunately, there are many ways you can avoid getting scammed. In this article we’ll go through some of the most common scams that are circulating around Canada and the USA, so you’ll know what to look out for.

Common Financial Scams Targeting Seniors

  • Charity Scams: Scams involving charities are pretty common regardless of what’s going on in the world, and scammers are skilled at exploiting current events. The recent pandemic is no exception, as fraudsters use it as a means to solicit donations under false pretenses, claiming to support families affected by the virus or its economic repercussions.
  • Phishing Scams: Phishing scams are when scammers pose as legitimate organizations or individuals to trick you into providing personal information, such as passwords or Social Security Numbers (SSNs). These scams may come in the form of emails, phone calls, or text messages and appear to be from trusted sources.
  • Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams: You may receive a notification claiming you have won a lottery or sweepstakes but have to pay fees or taxes to claim your prize. These scams often work because they prey on the desire most people have for financial security, but instead these scams lead to significant financial losses.
  • Tech Support Scams: Technology isn’t immune from scammers. They sometimes pretend to be tech support representatives and try to convince you to grant them remote access to your computer or device. Once they have access, scammers can steal personal information or install malicious software.
  • Investment Scams: Investment scams promise high returns with little or no risk. Scammers target seniors who may be looking to supplement their retirement income, offering fraudulent investment opportunities that can result in the loss of savings. Remember the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
  • Home Repair Scams: Scammers offer home repair services at a discounted rate but either perform substandard work or never complete the job. Or they ask for a down payment upfront and then disappear.
  • Healthcare Scams: Theda people who commit fraud know no bounds and will even offer fake healthcare products or services that claim to cure diseases or provide other health benefits. These scams attempt to exploit your health concerns and can lead to both financial harm and health risks.
  • Mortgage Scams: Scammers often send out deceptive letters that mimic official correspondence from government entities such as the county assessor’s office. These letters may falsely claim that you can reduce your property taxes by paying a fee. One telltale sign of a scam is that the letter usually contains no information that isn’t already public knowledge. If you receive such a letters, you should contact the county assessor’s office directly to verify its authenticity.
  • IRS Scams: One of the most common scams in the USA is someone pretending to be an IRS agent. This can happen over email, in person, mail, or the phone. These pretend agents may say that you owe taxes and demand immediate payment to avoid consequences like jail time or hefty fines. They might say that the IRS has previously contacted you by mail or email without a response, necessitating urgent action. They might also claim that you are owed a tax refund. In both cases, their goal is to obtain your credit card numbers, financial information, or even request money transfers. If you receive such a call, hang up immediately. If you are concerned that the contact might be genuine, verify by calling the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 to ensure you are speaking with a legitimate IRS agent.

These are just a few of the type of scams that are prevalent today. Other examples include funeral scams, fake magazine subscriptions, and the “grandparent scam” where they pretend to be a family member in trouble. It pays to be vigilant when interacting with anyone you are not already familiar with. Here are a few tactics scammers may use:

Common Tactics Used by Scammers

  • Pretending to be associated with a credible company, government agency, or charity.
  • Evoke fear or give a sense of urgency so you don’t have much time to think or act.
  • Appear to be helpful to gain so they gain your trust.
  • Being friendly, approachable, and sympathetic so that you feel like they’re on your side
  • Being vague about the subject or changing it throughout a conversation to distract you and avoid your questions.

Tips to Protect Yourself from Financial Scams

  • Educate Yourself: Stay informed about the latest scams targeting seniors and learn how to recognize warning signs. Research common scams and share that information with your friends and family to raise their awareness.
  • Verify Identity: Always verify the identity of anyone requesting personal or financial information. Legitimate organizations will not ask for sensitive information over the phone or via email. When in doubt, end the conversation immediately.
  • Use Strong Passwords: Use strong, unique passwords for online accounts and enable two-factor authentication whenever possible. This can help protect your accounts from being easily hacked.
  • Limit Sharing Personal Information: Be cautious about who you share personal information with, such as SSNs or bank account details.Whether online or over the phone, only share information with trusted sources whose identity you have verified.
  • Keep Software Updated: Keep your computer, smartphone, and other devices updated with the latest security patches and software updates. This can help protect you from malware and other online threats.
  • Shred Sensitive Documents: Shred documents containing personal or financial information before disposing of them to prevent identity theft. This includes documents such as bank statements, credit card offers, and medical bills.
  • Be Skeptical: Be wary of unsolicited offers, especially those that seem too good to be true. Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek a second opinion.
  • Seek Advice: Consult with a trusted family member, friend, or your financial advisor before making any significant financial decisions or changes. They can offer guidance and help you avoid potential scams.

Reporting Financial Scams

If you think you or a loved one might be a victim of a scam, reach out to someone you trust such as a close friend or family member. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone because doing nothing could make the situation even worse. Here are a few additional steps you could take:

  • Contact Your Financial Institution: If money has been stolen from your bank account or credit card, contact your financial institution immediately to report the fraud. They can help you recover your money and prevent further unauthorized transactions.
  • File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) in Canada: Report the scam to the FTC online at ftc.gov/complaint (United States) or by phone at 1-877-382-4357. In Canada, report to the CAFC online at antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca or by phone at 1-888-495-8501. The FTC and CAFC collect and analyze information on fraud and share it with law enforcement agencies.
  • Contact Local Law Enforcement: If you believe you have been the victim of a crime, contact your local law enforcement agency and file a report. They can investigate the matter and take appropriate action against the scammers.
  • Report the Scam to the Competition Bureau in Canada: If the scam involved a significant amount of money or had a widespread impact in Canada, consider reporting it to the Competition Bureau online at competitionbureau.gc.ca or by phone at 1-800-348-5358. The Competition Bureau investigates deceptive marketing practices and can take action against fraudulent businesses.

Financial scams who target seniors are a serious threat that can result in huge financial losses, not to mention the associated emotional distress. However, if you stay informed about common scams, recognize warning signs, and take steps to protect yourself, you can greatly reduce your risk of falling victim to financial fraud.