National Grandparents’ Day, proclaimed a holiday by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, falls each year on the Sunday after Labor Day. Thanks to the tireless work of one grassroots organizer—a woman who was also a driving force in legislation that protects and supports the elderly—this holiday is a time focus on one another and on the important contributions that grandparents make in the lives of the family.
And what better present could you give than to spare your relatives the headache and heartache of falling victim to a scam? Some scams, frauds and identity theft crimes specifically target senior citizens, so Grandparents’ Day is the perfect time to spread the news.
1. Grandparent Scam – This crime is actually called a “grandparent scam” because back before cell phones were a widespread device, senior citizens were often targeted. They were believed to have no way to verify whether this was a scam or not. Now, the scam has evolved to target anyone, but grandparents are still high on the list of potential victims.
In a grandparent scam, the victim receives a phone call that says a friend or loved one (as in, a grandchild) is in some kind of trouble and needs help. Stories over the years have included someone who was in the hospital, had been arrested, was stranded with car trouble or even had been kidnapped, and the only way to help was to send money.
2. Medicare/Healthcare Scams – Our aging population is thankfully living longer, and that has meant changes to programs like Medicare. With every new change—such as the recent issuance of new Medicare cards that no longer contain the holder’s Social Security number or the enrollment in various add-on plans—scammers attempt to steal money and identifying information from Medicare users.
It can be hard to spot a Medicare scam, especially if the caller already knows some information about you. To fight back, you have to develop a habit of never giving out your sensitive information to someone who contacts you. If there’s any doubt about your coverage or your plan, take the caller’s information and hang up. Then, using a verified phone number for your local administration, contact the Medicare office and find out what’s going on.
3. Tech Support Scams – As older adults join the digital revolution, more seniors are enjoying things like smartphones, laptops and tablets, social media and many other connected resources. Scammers assume that these “digital newcomers” might be naïve enough to fall for a technology-related scam, so seniors are prime targets for tech support scams.
A tech support scam occurs when someone contacts you by phone, email, text message or even a popup box on your computer and tells you that your computer is infected with a virus. They offer to clean out the virus for a fee, but actually steal your money while installing a virus on your computer. The virus will root around and find out your account information, login credentials and more. Remember, software companies do not sit at workstations and monitor your computer; anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
4. Untraceable Payment Scam – There is one major unifying factor in scams that steal your money: the scammers don’t want to get caught, so they rely on untraceable, non-returnable forms of payment. If you’re ever told that you owe money for an unpaid parking ticket, a court fine, back taxes to the IRS or any other bill that must be paid with a prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card, wire transfer or similar method, it’s a scam!
Any entity that you legitimately owe money to will accept your personal check, your credit card, or even cash; in rare exceptions, something like a parking ticket or court fee might have to be paid by cashier’s check, but also that will have a traceable number on it. Never make a payment to someone who claims the only accepted form are those listed above.
5. Romance Scams – There’s a perception that senior citizens might be lonely—after all, it’s what the creator of Grandparents’ Day was working to prevent—and scammers are counting on that. The frightening thing about romance scams is that they work too well and can impact any age.
However, there’s one unique thing about senior adults that makes them an especially hot target: the fear that they will lose their independence. Not only have some older victims of romance scams opted not to report the crime to anyone, some have even continued to pay their scammers after suspecting something wasn’t right. Make a firm decision to never give money to someone you only know online and never involve yourself in their crime, such as cashing a check for them.
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.