For scam artists, separating victims from their money is a full-time job. Unfortunately, they're very committed to and good at it. People reported losing $1.48 billion to fraud in 2018 – a 38% rise over 2017 – says Protecting Older Consumers 2017-2018: A Report of the Federal Trade Commission.
No demographic group is immune, and scammers target everyone, from 20-somethings to seniors. But people aged 50-plus, particularly seniors, are uniquely appealing targets. Why? Seniors have nest eggs, own their homes, and have good credit, according to the FBI.
It's also a group that tends to be more trusting, and since politeness was important when they were growing up, it's difficult for seniors to hang up on someone or walk away. It just feels rude and runs counter to their values.
Loneliness – a hunger for conversation and connection – can play a role too. Regardless of your stage of life, everyone needs to be vigilant to avoid being victimized. Scammers often rely on fear, charm, and threats to win you over and then deceive you. Be prepared and know that they're persistent and convincing.
You can better protect yourself and your family by familiarizing yourself with some of their strategies and ways to respond to common scams.
Here are five considerations.
- Hang up. Shut the door
Be suspicious of anyone asking you for personal information, and don't feel obligated to engage with people who show up at your door or who call or email with requests.
Keep your personal information – bank account numbers, credit card information, birth dates, and insurance and Social Security numbers – private.
Be wary of get-rich-quick schemes
People want to get rich quickly, and promises of big returns on investments can be pretty enticing. That may explain Bernie Madoff's success.
Be wary of investment pitches, especially if they come unsolicited, and do a little detective work before sharing any financial information.
After all, unlicensed and unregistered financial professionals commit much of the investment fraud that happens, according to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
So you need to vet financial professionals before working with them.
One way is by visiting BrokerCheck, a site run by FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority). There, you can type in the name of the person or firm that has contacted you and check if they're registered to offer investment advice and to sell things like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
Even better, it also gives you information about the person's qualifications, employment history, and any disciplinary action taken against them.
Another wise move is checking FINRA's list of barred individuals to be certain your financial professional or firm isn't on it.
FINRA also suggests asking several questions to assess whether an investment is fishy.
Does an investment's promotion include language like risk-free or guaranteed?
Did you learn about it through an unsolicited email or a phone call?
Does the investment offer high returns and low risk, is available for a limited time only or is guaranteed?
Who's selling the investment? Is it someone licensed or registered to sell it? Is it someone you recently met?
- Grandma, I need help!
Another common and scary ploy: Someone calls saying one of your grandchildren has an emergency and needs money immediately.
A caller may even provide personal details about your family, making the person seem legitimate.
They count on you to comply because you're afraid. But you gain the upper hand by staying calm and skeptical and by resisting.
You can call your grandchild – or ask a trusted friend to do it if you're upset – to see if he or she is actually in danger. Most likely, you'll find that your grandkids are just fine.
- Gone Phishing
With phishing scams, people get in touch – through emails or texts – pretending that they're from tech support, a bank, a store, or a credit card company, for instance.
It's easy to get tricked because messages often look legitimate and may even feature the same colors and logos as a real company.
But such people are just fishing for your information. To scare you, they may say there's a problem with your account, and it's soon to be suspended or that you need to update your profile. Sometimes you get a fake invoice.
If you think that a message may be legitimate, call the company or bank you do business with directly. A phone number listed in a questionable email could be part of the scam and fake. So be sure to call the phone number on your bill or credit card to check if your account is okay.
Tip: Never click on attachments or links in any suspicious emails because they can contain malware (malicious software) that can harm your computer and possibly allow scammers to access your private information. Learn more about phishing.
- Spot Imposters
Imposter scams involve someone pretending to be someone they're not to get information out of you.
They may claim to be financial advisors, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or your credit card company.
Imposters also arrive as love interests, and dating scams are rampant.
You may meet someone online or in-person who woos you and then starts asking for money, plane tickets, gift cards, or help with a financial emergency.
Be suspicious and outmaneuver them by not giving them money or information.
Tip: Keep in mind that the IRS communicates only through mail and never calls asking for Social Security numbers or other personal data. So if you get an IRS call, it's a scam.
Scams are constantly evolving, so it's smart to stay on top of the latest ploys. Here are some resources to keep you up to date.
AARP – Find articles, tips, and interactive maps to help you combat scammers.
Con 'Em If You Can – Interactive games and clever videos show you how con artists operate.
FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) – Find resources to help you understand and avoid financial fraud.