Scammers are a savvy lot when it comes to tricking people. Sadly, the 60-plus population is a frequent target of their fraudulent activity, defrauding them of nearly $3 billion a year.
The top three senior scams reported by Minnesotans to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline in 2019 are romance scams, sweepstakes scams and computer tech report scams. Let’s take a look at what they are, how to respond, and why fraudsters do what they do.
Being in love makes you happy and less alone in the world. Which can make you blind to the fact that someone is not all they say they are. Catfishers use a fake identity on social media or a dating app, and profess their love quickly to work their way up to a request for money. Because you want to help someone you care about, you do it. Once the money is sent, both the cash and the love interest disappear forever.
Any age can be a target, but seniors can be a lonely group, and catfishers are exploiting that. The median loss in romance scams for those aged 70 and up was $10,000, compared to $2,600 for all other victims, according to the FTC.
- Run their profile image through an online search. You may find the photo is actually a stock image or swiped from some unsuspecting person’s online profile!
- Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person. When an online suitor asks for money, cease contact immediately, and report them to the dating app or social media platform.
Congratulations, you’re a winner! But your prize is worthless or nonexistent. Unfortunately, many of these scams trick people into paying a fee or divulging personal information. (For example, a sweepstakes ring in Missouri agreed to repay $30 million in 2019 to defrauded seniors, after they were tricked into paying a fee to access their cash prize money.)
- A legal sweepstakes is free. That’s why you commonly will find “no purchase necessary” in small type.
- Look for specific details, like odds of winning, the value of the prizes, and other terms and conditions. If they’re absent, just say no thanks.
- Beware of these classic signs of sweepstakes fraud: The winner’s notice was sent by bulk mail, they ask you to attend a meeting to claim your prize or they mail you a check (asking you to wire some of the money back).
Computer tech support scam
Uh oh! Your computer has a virus! Or so the voice on the phone is telling you, or the pop-up alert on the screen. And if you’ve never felt confident with technology, this all seems very plausible. Of course you’ll get your credit card number so you can wire the money, and clear this up right away. Or you’ll give them remote access to your computer so they can “fix” it.
- Tech companies don’t actively monitor individual computers and notify people when there’s a problem.
- If you suspect a problem with your computer, contact the software company or drop by the store where you bought the computer. They often have someone on staff who can give you in-person help.
What makes older people an attractive target for these fraudsters?
Whether you’re a senior, or love someone who is, it’s pretty distressing to know bad actors are out preying on people’s trust and good natures. According to the FBI, seniors make ideal targets for these reasons:
- Seniors are likely to own their homes, they have money in their retirement fund and they have excellent credit. All of these present potential resources to a fraudster.
- Seniors may be experiencing cognitive decline and impaired memory, which makes it hard to recall details about the encounter with the fraudster. Sometimes, the realization that money was stolen may occur several months after the fact, making recollection even more of a struggle.
- Seniors may not report the crime for a variety of reasons. They may feel ashamed, or they may not know who to report it to.
What are common tactics to carry out a scam?
Scammers know a thing or two about human nature, which makes them excel at getting their hooks into your emotions — fear, love or the desire for a reward — to get you to act.
- Pressure is higher to act quickly — as in right now! To amp up the feeling of urgency or even panic, they may threaten you with higher fees or even jail.
- They pose as authority figures, by pretending to represent a government official or someone in authority, such as the IRS or the police department.
- They establish trust, and convince you to give your credit card or Social Security number over the phone (or online).
Protect yourself and your finances
Remember, Minnwest Bank will never call (or email) asking for your personal information or your log-in credentials. If you receive a text or an email telling you to follow a link and share this personal information, that’s a sign of a hoax. Never click on these links. Access your account only through your app or a browser. If you think you were the victim of a financial scam, call law enforcement and your community banker immediately.