Senior Scams: How the Elderly Population Can Protect Their Finances During the Pandemic

Although anywhere from 2.3 to 2.6 million robberies occur every year in the U.S., you don’t need to experience a home invasion to become the victim of a financial crime. In fact, fraud and theft can easily be perpetrated online or via phone, which makes criminals much harder to catch. And with an estimated 4,083,105,000 internet users worldwide, that means these culprits have no shortage of potential prey.

That’s never been truer than right now. In the midst of the pandemic, millions have lost their jobs and many see opportunities for their own unlawful gain. The FBI has already stated that cybercrime reports have quadrupled during the pandemic, with many reports being directly tied to scams inspired by COVID-19. And while individuals of any age can fall victim to a scam, the unfortunate truth is that senior citizens — who are already most vulnerable to the most serious effects of the novel coronavirus — are also being targeted for many of the most popular fraud attempts occurring right now.

Since more than 47 million seniors now live in the U.S., this population needs to take steps to protect themselves from harm. In the age of the COVID-19 crisis, elderly people need to take extra precautions for both their physical and their financial health. Here’s what you should know about the latest scams targeting senior citizens.

Be Wary of What’s in Your Inbox

According to the California-based Chico Enterprise Record, there have been several scams relating to COVID-19 that have popped up via email in recent months. While some appeared to be sent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO), others looked like they came from fake agencies or organizations actively seeking donations for patients and doctors. Even healthcare agencies have said they’re receiving scam emails supposedly offering testing services for COVID-19 through faux telehealth providers.

Other individuals throughout the country have received emails that state the recipient has qualified for a pandemic payment, instructing the reader to click a link to claim their check. USAA has warned seniors to be on alert for stimulus check and economic relief scam emails, as well. In addition, there’s a popular scam being sent via email, Facebook messenger, and even text message that offers seniors thousands of dollars to stay home during the outbreak. Seniors are being offered fake federal grant money — but in exchange, the scammers are requesting a payment upfront as “insurance” in exchange for expedited delivery of grant money. But, not surprisingly, that grant money never comes.

As Florida’s attorney general explained: “This scam appears to involve an international criminal organization utilizing a multifaceted communications plan to deceive seniors… These criminals are hacking Facebook accounts to send messages to targets from a friend’s profile — creating the illusion that the grant program is being promoted by an acquaintance. Once contact is made, the criminals request personal information, bank account numbers, and insurance payments purportedly to help ensure the safe delivery of thousands of dollars in federal grant money, and of course, the money is never sent.”

The lesson here: don’t open or interact with emails from anyone you don’t know and be very careful about clicking a link even from someone you know well. Be sure to scan any email from a supposedly reputable source for typos, grammatical mistakes, and inconsistencies. You should also double-check to ensure the sender is really who you think it is. If you’re ever in doubt, contact the organization directly and do some research on your own to verify whether an email or an offer is valid.

Don’t Fall For Phony Phone Calls

Robocalls and phone scammers are on the rise, as well. Some Medicare beneficiaries have reported receiving robocalls with messages pertaining to “special virus kits,” with a request for the recipient of the call to provide their Medicare number in exchange for a “free test.” There are online scams that follow this model, as well, with some variations involving “free vaccines” for those who enter their Medicare information. Some people will pose as Medicare representatives and offer free masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer in exchange for this information, as well, which can reportedly be spoken or texted.

Of course, there is no vaccine for COVID-19 as of yet — and you should never share this information with someone who contacts you first. Since recent research released by the Better Business Bureau showed that the top reason people lose money in a scam is because the scammer “seems official,” you should exercise a healthy amount of suspicion if you receive a direct call from any organization like this. You should also beware of anything that might be given to you for “free,” particularly if you’re required to disclose private information for it.

Decline Offers of Pre-Paid Home Sanitation

Of course, many people are worried about the novel coronavirus finding its way into their homes. Service scams are nothing new, but criminals are tweaking their approach for the pandemic age. Some residents of senior housing and independent living facilities are being directly approached about testing or home cleaning, while other seniors are receiving emails and phone calls offering home sanitation services for COVID-19 protection. The catch is that seniors have to “pre-pay” for these services — which is followed by a no-show when the cleaning crew is supposed to come.

If you’re worried about the cleanliness of your home, it’s not a great idea to have anyone else come in to clean it for you. You never know whether that individual might already be sick; they could even be asymptomatic and pass COVID-19 onto you. Ultimately, the best thing you can do here is to handle cleaning yourself, if possible, and to take precautions like removing your shoes and remembering to wipe down frequently-touched surfaces regularly. In general, you should be wary of anyone who tries to sell services door-to-door or who calls you out of the blue to provide a product or service.

It’s not always easy to spot a scam, especially when the world seems like a scary place. But with these tips in mind, seniors can protect their financial well-being during the pandemic.

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