An 82-year-old woman living in downtown Manhattan reported to police that on Friday, January 15, she received a call from an unknown man claiming to be from the IRS.
The caller said that the woman’s Social Security number had been stolen and she would go to jail if she did not send him money immediately via wire transfers to multiple accounts.
Unfortunately, she complied with his instructions and so was scammed out of an eye-opening $523,000.
This is one of the worst examples of a storm of phone and internet scams plaguing seniors in recent years, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
The Scope of the Problem
The FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center said cybercriminals victimized 105,301 Americans aged 60 and older in 2020, a total loss of $966,062,236, with an average loss per victim of $9,174. All forms of elder fraud now amount to more than $3 billion a year.
Here in NYC, the New York Police Department reported 1,296 grand larceny incidents targeting residents 65 and older from January 1 to June 13 of this year, of which 348 involved some form of scam. These scam numbers are up 38% from the 252 reported in the same period in 2020.
Why Seniors are Especially Vulnerable
According to the FBI, seniors are targeted by scammers because many have substantial financial resources.
Seniors are also considered trusting and polite, as well as more likely to engage in a phone conversation because many live alone and are at home to receive a call.
In addition, seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they’re ashamed. Sgt. Raymond Morales, NYPD Community Affairs Outreach Division, notes, “We’re all savvy New Yorkers. No one would ever think that we’d fall for a scam such as this ... There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment around it.”
Seniors may also be concerned that relatives could lose confidence in their ability to manage their financial affairs.
And of course, those who are grieving for the loss of a spouse, family member, friend, or pet may also be especially vulnerable.
Not to mention that seniors with memory loss or cognitive impairments may have trouble detecting scams or discerning who is trustworthy.
Most Common Scams
According to The National Council on Aging and AARP, some of the most commonly reported scams targeting seniors include the following:
LOTTERY AND FAKE PRIZE SCAMS: Seniors get phone calls or emails telling them they have won large sums of money in a contest but need to wire money to receive their winnings.
TECH OR COMPUTER SUPPORT SCAMS: A popup message appears on your computer or phone and says your device is compromised and must be fixed – for a fee, of course.
GRANDPARENT SCAM: Someone calls a senior pretending to be a grandchild requesting money to be wired immediately for bail, jail bond, medical bills, rent, car repairs or other reasons.
GOVERNMENT IMPOSTOR SCAMS: A fake IRS agent says a senior owes taxes and must pay immediately or face jail time or hefty fines. Other scammers say a senior’s Social Security or Medicare benefits will be cut off if the senior doesn’t confirm personal information.
ROMANCE SCAMS: Scammers on an internet dating site will request money for visas, medical emergencies, or travel expenses to come visit.
FAKE DEBT COLLECTION SCAM: Phony collectors threaten to arrest or physically harm seniors if they don’t pay a fake debt immediately or provide sensitive personal information.
ACCOUNT TAKEOVER TEXTS OR EMAILS: These tell seniors that internet, credit card, or bank accounts have been compromised, or advise of a fraudulent order at an online store. The senior is then requested to click on a link and provide personal information.
4 Ways to Protect Yourself from Scammers
- First, watch out for these red flags of a scam: being pressured to act immediately; getting instructions to pay through untraceable forms of payment, including gift cards or wire transfers; threats not to discuss the situation with anyone else.
- When the phone rings with an unexpected call, let the call go to voice mail. NEVER click on links, open attachments, or call phone numbers provided in texts or emails, even if the sender appears to be a person or firm with whom you do business.
- If a popup appears on your computer warning of a problem, close your browser; if that fails, simultaneously press CTRL-ALT-DEL, open Task Manager and click “End Task” for your browser. The next time you open your browser, click NO if it asks if you want to restore your last session.
- Monitor your financial accounts and credit scores regularly!
Remember: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That includes huge cash prizes from contests you never entered; “no risk” investments guaranteeing high returns; “wealthy international oil investors” looking to date you; anything YOURS FREE, for an upfront fee.
And if you do get scammed, contact the NYPD immediately. NYPD Deputy Inspector Victoria Perry says: “Most important is calling 911 and allowing us to do the investigative portion and making sure that this doesn’t happen continuously.”