Senior Scams: What to Watch Out for in 2021
Scams are more sophisticated than ever. What looks like an email from a friend or a text from your bank can often be a scammer trying to hack your information.
The FBI explains seniors are the perfect target for scammers. They typically have more money (retirement savings, a paid-for home), they’re less likely to report fraud, and memory loss is a trait scammers love to exploit. Another interesting insight is that those who grew up between 1930 and 1950 are generally known to be more polite and trusting – again, ideal for a scammer.
Scammers can take any situation and use it to benefit themselves. COVID-19, Social Security, the IRS, and Medicare have been and will continue to be exploited by scammers to steal your information and money.
In 2021, there are several senior scams to watch out for, including COVID-19 vaccine fraud and fake contact tracers.
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COVID-19 Vaccine Scams
Because the COVID-19 vaccine is so new, you may not be familiar with the traps scammers use to trick people. Several government organizations, including the FBI and Department of Justice, have put together a list of COVID-19 vaccine distribution scams.
If anyone asks you to pay out of pocket to get the vaccine, you can bet it’s a scam. Medicare will pay for the COVID-19 vaccine in full, and you will not be asked to pay out of pocket for it.
Avoid any advertisements for vaccines that appear on social media platforms like Facebook, in your email, via phone calls, or any unknown sources.
If you’re asked to pay to put your name on a vaccine waiting list, it’s a scam. You also can’t pay for early access – states are handling vaccine prioritization, which cannot be bought.
Finally, ignore marketers offering to sell or ship doses of vaccine for payment. That is also – you guessed it – a scam.
COVID-19 Testing, Contact Tracing, and Treatment Scams
There are all sorts of scams going on related to the coronavirus pandemic, and they can be hard to spot.
When it comes to contact tracing, a legitimate tracer will need health information – not money or financial information. The FTC says a contact tracer may ask for your name and address, health information, and names of places and people you have visited. Scammers go further and might ask for a payment, your Social Security number, or immigration status.
In addition, contact tracers will never send you an email attachment or something to download. If you’re asked to click a link or download something, it’s a scam.
Advertisements for test kits should be analyzed with caution. The FTC says many test kits aren’t approved by the FDA and aren’t accurate. Nearly all authorized at-home test kits require you to send a test sample to a lab for analysis. If it’s an at-home test that promises rapid results, it could be a scam.
Finally, be wary of “miracle treatments” or COVID-19 cures. Scammers are trying to exploit the fear this pandemic is causing by selling products with no proof they actually work. Always consult with your doctor for personalized medical advice.
Fraudulent Anti-Aging Cosmetics and Products
Counterfeit cosmetics have been a severe problem for several years.
Industry and government studies have found carcinogens, high aluminum levels, and dangerous levels of bacteria from sources like urine in counterfeit anti-aging products. These fake cosmetics can cause rashes, psoriasis, infections, and acne.
The FBI has a few tips for spotting fake anti-aging products:
- Keywords like “secret formulas” and “breakthrough” are favorites for scammers
- Research a product thoroughly before buying
- Think twice if a product claims to cure several illnesses – especially if they are unrelated
- Don’t put too much weight on testimonials and celebrity endorsements – they are often misleading
- Be cautious of any product that says it has no side effects
Try to buy from reputable companies like Sephora or Ulta, and never buy used cosmetics from sites like eBay. Finally, if a product seems too good to be true, it probably is.
IRS Stimulus Money Scams
The IRS will never call you about your stimulus payments. Scammers can rig their caller ID to make it seem like a government number is calling you. That’s what makes these scams so challenging to spot.
However, if the IRS is going to contact you about money, it will be via US mail. The IRS will not call or email you about anything related to your finances.
Another common coronavirus relief scam is an email that appears to be from Joe Simons of the Federal Trade Commission. It says you’re getting relief money, and if you reply, the scammers say you have to pay taxes before you can access the funds. The emails include fake certifications and IRS letters to make you believe it’s legitimate.
If you have questions or concerns about your stimulus money, visit IRS.gov or call them at 800-919-9835.
Always remember: if any government agency calls you and asks for personal information or money, it’s a scam. Hang up the phone or delete the email immediately.
Fake Prescriptions Scam
Counterfeit prescription drugs are illegal and can cause your health conditions to get worse. Fake prescriptions might be contaminated, contain the wrong ingredients, or have no active ingredient. They could also have the right ingredients but with the wrong dosage.
To avoid fake prescription drugs, closely inspect your prescription packaging every time you fill it. If there are any changes, alert your physician or pharmacist.
If your medication causes any unusual side effects or your health condition doesn’t get better, talk to your physician or pharmacist. Never purchase drugs online from distributors who don’t require a prescription.
If you are buying prescriptions online, look for a seal of approval called the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS), provided by the Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the United States.
Gift Card Scams
Giving scammers the PIN off the back of a gift card is the No. 1 way people report losing money (FTC).
While Christmas is over, this common scam will persist. Scammers will tell you to go to specific stores to buy gift cards. They may tell you you’re evaluating a retailer as a secret shopper or you’re in trouble with the government, and the only way to avoid arrest is through electronic vouchers.
eBay and Google Play are two of the most common gift cards requested by scammers, though reports suggest scammers have diversified and are asking for many different types of gift cards.
Remember: if anyone asks to be paid with a gift card, it’s a scam.
There are hundreds – perhaps even thousands – of scams targeted directly at the senior population. These are all categorized as elder fraud. Some of the most common schemes include:
- Grandparent scam – criminals pose as a child or grandchild in immediate financial need.
- Romance scam – criminals pose as a romantic interest on a dating site or social media platform.
- Tech support scam – criminals pose as tech support to help fix non-existent computer issues.
- Sweepstakes scam – criminals claim you’ve won a sweepstake or lottery, which you can collect for a fee.
Perhaps one of the worst scams is the caregiver scam. Relatives or acquaintances of elderly victims take advantage of them to get their money. Scammers aren’t always strangers.
Always be cautious of phone calls, texts, emails, or mailings you aren’t expecting. Be aware that scammers will try to pressure you to act quickly by creating a sense of urgency. Finally, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If you have parents or grandparents who over age 65, ensure they are aware of all the traps scammers will try to create. The senior population is at the highest risk of being scammed. 2021 will undoubtedly be a year of COVID-19 scams, so keep an eye out and watch for fraud!
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