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BBB Trends: Older people are often targets of scams; here are most common, and how not to be a victim


According to the FBI, if you are age 60 or older, you are a likely target for scammers who sell fraudulent products and services by phone. Scammers know that senior citizens were raised to be polite and trusting, and often find it difficult to just say “no” or hang up the phone. Combined with the knowledge that senior citizens may have savings, own their own home and have excellent credit, these traits make them susceptible to fraud.

BBB takes fraud against seniors very seriously, and warns against the following popular scams:

Grandparent Scam

It’s 2 a.m., and you’re sound asleep when the phone rings. “Grandma?” a hysterical voice says on the other end of the line. “It’s me… I’m in trouble. I’m on vacation, and there was an accident! I need money. Please keep this between us.” Being half-awake and fearful for the safety of your grandchild, you wire the money.

This scam is designed to fool seniors into thinking their grandchild has been injured, arrested or stranded while out of town and is in need of money. The con artist makes up an urgent situation and pleads for help and money.

How to Avoid: Don’t disclose any information. Scammers make their story more believable by picking up on details you give them, like your grandchild’s name. Ask the person claiming to be your grandchild a personal question, such as a family member’s name, or better yet — agree on a code word with your grandchildren beforehand that they can use if they’re in trouble. Also, communicate with your family and know when they will be vacationing so you’re not caught off-guard.

Lottery Scam

A bright red envelope pokes out of the stack of mail, the words “You’re a Winner!” emblazoned on the front. The letter inside begins, “We are pleased to inform you that you’ve won our sweepstakes raffle! Provide the following processing fee to claim your prize.

These form letters promise a grand exchange of money in return for a fee. The fees are often low, but can be as high as thousands of dollars. Lotteries are illegal, except when conducted by states and certain exempt charitable organizations.

How to Avoid: Verify. Don’t use a contact source scammers give you. Look them up independently and call BBB for more information. Don’t ever pay to claim a prize — it is illegal to require payment to claim a prize in the United States. And remember, you can’t win a contest you didn’t enter.

IT Support Scams

The caller ID claims the incoming call is from Microsoft. Your computer uses Microsoft software, so you figure the call must be legitimate. “Hello, ma’am. My name is Keith and I represent Microsoft. Your computer has a virus and I’m calling to conduct repairs. I just need to remote access your computer, and I’ll need a one-time fee of $299.”

Cyber-criminals now have the ability to spoof the names and numbers or people or businesses you may know, and this tactic is often used in IT support scams. The scammer will claim your computer has a virus or needs an update and they are calling to help. Once these scammers have access to the computer they can install malicious software, steal personal information, lock the computer and demand payment to unlock it again, or direct you to a fraudulent website where you are asked to enter your credit card information.

How to Avoid: Install virus detection software on your computer and make sure it’s updated regularly. Don’t trust cold calls; your software provider will not call you to repair your computer. Find a computer repair company you can trust ahead of time to do repairs and keep your system free of malware.

IRS & U.S. Treasury Scams

The IRS has never called you by phone before, but the man on the phone claims to be a government agent that represents them. You’re too flustered to check, because he is explaining how you owe back taxes and your arrest is imminent. He claims if you don’t provide payment via a wire transfer by today, the policy will come to your home.

In other versions of this scam, the con artist threatens to arrest you because of an overdue payday loan or for missing jury duty. Whatever the “violation,” it’s scary to be threatened with arrest, and many people pay out of fear.

How to Avoid: Hang up! The IRS and other government entities will not call you to collect money and will never ask you to make a payment via a prepaid card or wire transfer.

Statistically, older Americans are less likely to report fraud due to embarrassment or being unaware they’ve been scammed. Victims also might not be aware of where to report the fraud. Keep yourself safe, and report scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Attorney General, or BBB at www.scamtracker.org.

Better Business Bureau


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