Common Scams Targeting Seniors To Beware Of

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Scams have always been around, but in the present day, with the proliferation of internet scams and their increasing complexity, it’s important to ensure that any elderly relatives are being cautious. Scammers will often target elderly people specifically, hoping to prey on their lack of technological savvy or take advantage of any confusion. 

Scams can come in a wide range of forms, from claiming to sell a product or service, offering an investment opportunity, or even catfishing and relationship scams. 

No matter what the scam is, the preventative measures are the same: it’s a matter of knowledge, education, and exercising caution. 

If concerned about a loved one, make sure you keep an eye out for any signs of large cash withdrawals or suspicious communications. And make sure you’re knowledgeable when it comes to scams by reading the rest of this article on some of the primary scams that can target the elderly.

Email Scam

Email has become one of the primary forms of communication for many of us, essential to so many aspects of our life, and almost everyone has at least one inbox. Because of this ubiquity, email scams are frequently used by scammers. 

Email scams can take a number of forms, but there are a few common types, and you should always look out for emails that want you to either send money directly or ask for personal banking details. Even if it’s an email from your bank, don’t click any links and instead go to the bank website directly. 

One common scam targeted at elderly people is an email, or sometimes a text message, from an apparently stranded friend or relative abroad needing money. Usually this will be a rushed and panicked message saying they need help right away and can't answer the phone. If a message like this is received, call the person anyways before sending money to verify, and call others who know where the person actually is. Always take a few minutes at least to check the situation. 

In order to help protect your elderly relatives from email scams, you should advise them to:

  • Avoid clicking on attachments or links from unfamiliar senders

  • Never click on links that ask for bank details, or offer bank details over email 

  • Don’t reply to junk emails, as this can validate your email address and lead to an even higher volume of these which can open you up to malware and scams 

These are some of the key warning signs of a scam email:

  • The email address of the sender does not match up with the details in the email, for example if an email claims to be from a bank but the email address is not the official one used by the bank. You can see this in the “from” part of the email, usually hover over the sender’s name for the email sender to be visible.

  • The email requires you to immediately either pay money or provide secure information such as passwords or bank details.

  • The email text has blatant incorrect grammar or spelling mistakes. Of course imperfect grammar does not equal a scam, but a professional organization like a bank will not send an email full of errors.

Social Media

Social media is something that has not only become a huge part of our lives, but an area that through its anonymity and direct communication is a frequent target for potential scammers and fraudsters. This can be especially tricky to spot as scammers are able to use fake names, and often stock photos, to give the illusion of a real person, and then contact the target through direct messages. 

You can help your elderly relatives to avoid falling for social media scams by simply making them aware of them, as they are relatively new and under the radar compared to other methods such as email and phone scams. You can also set up their privacy options for them so that scammers won’t be able to easily contact them. 

Phone Scams

Scammers are still targeting their victims through phone scams, and it’s important to make sure your elderly relatives are aware of the dangers of unsolicited or unexpected calls from unknown numbers. 

In terms of specific things you should make sure your elderly relatives are looking out for: 

  • Calls pertaining to be from an authority such as your bank or the police regarding fraudulent uses of your cards or bank account. In these instances the scammer will often ask for bank details such as your PIN number. This doesn’t happen with legitimate calls and you should never provide these details over the phone.
  • Cold calls pushing either an investment opportunity that promises unrealistic returns, or trying to talk to you about debt management or other services you haven’t enquired about.
  • Phone calls claiming to know information about your computer, and asking you to install software to fix problems such as a virus. This software will in fact be spyware that will give fraudsters access to your online banking and email.

If anyone on the phone ever asks to be paid in bitcoin or gift cards, it is a scam and the number should be blocked. No government organization will ever require payment in gift cards. 

In Person Scammers 

Elderly people should also be aware of the dangers of in person scammers, who will often try to take advantage of the fact that many elderly people live alone. Many of these scammers will pretend to be tradesmen and make house calls, making claims about necessary work for which they can charge large amounts of money. 

You should make sure your elderly relatives are aware of the potential presence of these rogue traders. Don’t let anyone unknown in your house that was not previously arranged. 

As with all the scams we’ve discussed, one of the best ways to help your elderly relatives avoid being scammed is to keep in regular contact with them and know what’s been happening in their day to day lives.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a scam, report the incident to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, either online or toll free at 1-888-495-8501.