Senior Scams: What to Watch Out for in 2023
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.
In 2023, there are several senior scams to watch out for, including COVID-19 vaccine fraud and Medicare schemes.
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Why Seniors Need to Be Extra Cautious
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.
Social Security Scams
Social Security scams are more popular than ever. Scammers call you and tamper with the Caller ID so it looks like the call really is coming from the Social Security Administration.
They will try to trick you into giving your social security number or even some form of payment. Scammers may threaten you by saying your SSN will be suspended or that there’s a problem with your benefits.
They may even demand immediate payment to avoid arrest or other legal action. While it may scare you in the moment, remember that this type of phone call would never happen with the real Social Security Administration.
Social Security rarely makes phone calls unless you’ve requested it first. If you get a call from Social Security that seems threatening or the caller asks for personal information, hang up. After you hang up, call the real SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to verify if the call you just received was real or a scam.
If you truly owe money to Social Security, you will get a letter in the mail with payment options and appeal rights. The SSA will never do any of the following:
- Threaten you with arrest or legal action because you don’t agree to pay money immediately.
- Suspend your Social Security number.
- Promise a benefit increase in exchange for money.
- Ask you to send gift cards, prepaid debit cards, wire transfers, Internet currency, cryptocurrency, or cash through the U.S. mail.
If you suspect a scam, report it to the Office of the Inspector General.
Medicare scams happen year round, but the highest frequency of scamming happens during the annual enrollment period. This window of time from October 15-December 7 is when you can make changes to your Medicare health and drug plans.
Scammers love to play into the urgency of this timeframe by threatening to take your benefits, rushing you into a decision, or suggesting their plan is preferred by Medicare.
It's not always traditional scammers pulling off these schemes, either – some insurance agents ignore compliance guidelines and mistreat and misinform senior consumers.
Here are a few things to look out for when talking about Medicare enrollments:
- Insurance agents are now required to record all calls, so if the call isn't being recorded, it's not compliant.
- Insurance agents must also read off this disclaimer within the first 60 seconds of your call: "We do not offer every plan available in your area. Any information we provide is limited to those plans we do offer in your area. Please contact Medicare.gov or 1-800-MEDICARE to get information on all of your options."
- Insurance agents cannot pose as Medicare or state they work "with" Medicare.
- No plans are endorsed by or preferred by Medicare.
- You are under no obligation or pressure to enroll in a plan that day – you have from October 15 to December 7 to make changes.
Our team of licensed sales agents here at Sams/Hockaday adheres to all compliance guidelines and will never pressure you or rush you into an enrollment decision.
Tech Support Scams
Tech support scammers often target seniors by calling and saying there’s a problem with their computer. They pose as a computer tech from a well-known company or computer brand.
All they need is remote access to your computer. Then, they run a fake test, and ask you to pay for them to fix the “problem.”
This is, of course, a scam. Anytime a stranger calls you and ends up demanding payment, assume it’s a scam.
To get a better understanding of how these tech support scams progress, check out this 1-minute video recording from the FTC of an undercover investigation.
The COVID-19 vaccine is often used by scammers 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.
Some newer scams include COVID-19 texting scams that falsely advertise a cure or offer bonus testing.
Another COVID-related scam that specifically targets older adults claims benefit payments may be suspended or decreased due to office closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, if you make a payment, the scammer tells you that your regular benefit payments will be restored. This is a scam.
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
- If you get Botox, get it from a reputable source as there have been many fake Botox schemes, which is very dangerous
- 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).
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 today.
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 in 2023.
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