Seniors weren’t raised with computers and tend to be less savvy to hackers’ tactics. For example, they may not question the authenticity of a pop-up window that say their computer has a virus, and they need to call a number or click on a link to fix the problem. Microsoft estimates 3.3 million Americans across all age ranges fall victim to tech support scams each year with annual loss of $1.5 billion.
In a late 2016 survey by Home Instead, Inc., approximately 20 percent of U.S. and Canadian seniors in their 70s or older, said they weren’t using any anti-virus software on their computers. Those who do have anti-virus software installed on their devices may not be updating their software or staying current on other, more effective services.
Seniors typically fall into two categories: access to liquid financial assets or large “nest egg” or haven’t saved sufficiently fearing outliving their assets. They also tend to have good credit ratings. These factors and others make them attractive targets for investment scams or “claim-your-prize-now” schemes.
Social media helps seniors feel connected to long-distance friends and relatives. Facebook is the dominant social media for most seniors. It’s also a convenient way to fill voids in other social interactions, potentially setting seniors up for accidentally “oversharing” personal information, which makes them easier targets for scammers.
Many seniors like to help people and have big hearts. People raised in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were often taught to be polite and trusting, rather than skeptical. They’re generally more likely to help others without doing background research on the individual or charity in question.
They’re also more likely to go out of their way to help relatives, which sets them up as victims of scammers impersonating a family member with a medical or overseas “emergency” that requires immediate funds.
Seniors also fall victim to family members who don’t have their best interests at heart. According to the National Council on Aging, in nearly 60 percent of all elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member, typically an adult child or spouse.
Scammers are well-versed in manipulation and description techniques, which can be even more effective with seniors, who may have some degree of cognitive impairment.
Time on Their Hands
Many seniors have plenty of time to talk—and may be lonely—which makes them more vulnerable to scam artists who befriend them or pretend to have a romantic interest, later milking them for money. More than a third of seniors surveyed in the latest National Poll on Healthy Aging said they felt a lack of companionship at least some of the time, and 27 percent reported sometimes or often feeling isolated.
In the U.S., where Medicare provides medical insurance for people ages 65+, scammers may masquerade as Medicare officials attempting to:
- “Verify” Social Security numbers (and steal this personal information)
- Obtain Medicare numbers (to purchase medical services or reimbursements)
- Acquire other useful personal and financial information (claiming to send free medical equipment)
Scammers may also threaten loss of coverage if the information isn’t provided, claiming it is required due to new policies, addendums, or a need to send a new, updated card. When in doubt call Medicare directly.
Since seniors are often on a fixed income and may face higher prescription drug expenses than the rest of the population, they are more likely to order prescription drugs online to save money, potentially falling victim to dangerous counterfeit prescription drug scams.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating a growing number of counterfeit prescription drug operators each year. What’s the best way to ensure an online pharmacy is safe? In the U.S., make sure the answer is “yes” to these four questions: 1) Are they licensed to operate in your state? 2) Do they require a doctor’s prescription? 3) Do they have a physical address and phone number in the U.S.? 4) Do they offer a licensed pharmacist to answer questions?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in every year from 2009-2016, for example, seniors faced $3,288 average total expenditures, compared to $1,539 for younger people.
Seniors are more likely to be homeowners, which makes them potential targets for related scams, including pitches to reduce your property taxes by having your home’s value reassessed—for a fee.
In the so-called “woodchuck” scam, fake contractors convince seniors, living alone, that they need expensive tree-trimming services, a new roof, or other costly home projects, subsequently fleecing them for thousands of dollars.
Senior homeowners are also vulnerable to scams involving reverse mortgages or home equity loans. Family members caregivers, and home repair companies will encourage seniors to borrow excess equity then proceed to relive the homeowner of their funds.