With holiday carols all around and seasonal cheer in the air, the holidays are lovingly referred to as “the giving season.” For many seniors, the holidays are not just about presents under a tree or twinkling lights but also about offering support to charities and causes close to their hearts. However, seniors—the most generous demographic during the giving season—are often targeted by fraudsters during this period and into the new year.
Fraudulent activities can lead to severe consequences, including financial loss, damaged reputations, and emotional distress. A recent survey by the American Institute of CPAs found that the stress and emotional impact of fraud on the elderly largely outweighed the financial impact. Through a survey of its membership of CPA financial planners, AICPA identified the most common types of fraud carried out on the elderly as phone or internet scams (75%), followed by the inability to decline requests from relatives (60%), and identity theft (49%).
According to a 2020 report from the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, at least 66% of victims of fraudulent schemes are aged 60 and older. As we aim to safeguard our beloved seniors in every way, being informed about the newest scams targeting seniors and the countermeasures to keep them safe is paramount.
Realizing the Risks: Scams Targeting Seniors
Seniors are often senior scam targets due to assumptions that they have a significant life-saving nest, are less tech-savvy, and are generally more trustful—particularly so during the giving season. Below are the newest and most common fraudulent schemes targeting seniors:
Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams — Scammers pose as lottery or sweepstakes organizations, informing the senior that they’ve won a significant reward but need to pay a small fee or taxes to claim the winnings.
Grandparent Scams: These involve impersonating a grandchild in desperate need of financial help due to an emergency, urging the senior to send money immediately.
Charity Scams: Scammers pretend to represent charitable organizations, often taking advantage of current events or holiday spirit to solicit fraudulent donations.
Social Security Scams: Perpetrators trick the elderly into revealing sensitive information under the guise of avoiding Social Security benefits suspension.
Tech Support Scams: Also called “phantom hacker” scams, this type of cybercrime involves scammers posing as computer tech support representatives to trick seniors into giving them access to their computers, stealing sensitive information.
Armoring Against the Attacks: How to Avoid Fraud
As daunting as the threat of scams may be, knowledge is power, and there are time-trusted strategies to follow to prevent falling for these schemes:
Maintain skepticism: If an offer or request sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always double-check information and maintain a healthy level of skepticism.
Never give out personal information: Fraudsters can pose as bank representatives, lottery officials, or even family members. Never divulge sensitive personal information over phone or email.
Research before giving: Before making a donation, verify the charity’s legitimacy through monitoring organizations like the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, or GuideStar.
Beware of pressured decisions: Be wary of time-limited offers or emotional appeals; scammers use these pressure tactics to push people into hasty decisions.
Follow technical best practices: Make sure your computer’s operating system and browser are up-to-date and verify the security certificates of websites by clicking on the padlock icon in the browser address bar. Read up on more online safeguards with these tips from the National Council on Aging.
The best gift we can give our seniors this holiday season does not come wrapped in shiny paper. Instead, it’s the gift of peace of mind through awareness and protection. Be vigilant to prevent undue harm from falling on the most generous among us – members of our valued senior population. In so doing, we genuinely preserve the spirit of the season.
Every time we act to safeguard a senior from the hands of scammers, we truly reflect the holiday’s essence — a celebration of love, kindness, and generosity. Let’s make it a truly joy-filled season for all.
“The Giving Season: Protecting Seniors from Fraud,” edited by Michelle Flores, Amada blog contributor.