August is typically the month for back-to-school preparations. With many schools starting in mere weeks, families are busy shopping for supplies and enjoying the final days of summer vacation. Some are even readying their high school and college seniors for the last hurrah. But what about the other seniors in your life? National Senior Citizens Day is Aug. 21, and these family members should receive some recognition this month as well. Take a few minutes to think about how you can keep the senior citizens in your life safe from scams and fraud.
There are a lot of reasons why Internet scammers and identity thieves target senior citizens, with factors ranging from their sense of trust in others, to income availability, to concerns for personal safety. And while scammers may be counting on older adults’ fears of looking like they can’t take care of themselves—and therefore not reporting that they’ve been victimized—the sad reality is that internet scammers can go after anyone.
This list includes only a few of the red flags that seniors should keep in mind when it comes to avoiding scams:
1. Wiring money or money transfers—The ability to wire money is a vital economic tool, but it’s also a dead giveaway of a scam since thieves know it is hard to trace the money. Whether it’s the age-old “grandchild has been arrested in a foreign country” scam or a threat of bill collections, alleged fines that are owed, or a missed credit card payment, if you are ever asked to wire money or use a prepaid credit card to make payment, STOP. Whatever you do, don’t just fall for it and wire the money without verifying the cause.
2. Asking for your Social Security number—Anyone who asks for a Social Security number, especially over the phone or online, should make you think twice. Only in recent years have we really started to raise awareness about keeping your SSN secure, so scammers know that a senior citizen is more likely to give it out than a younger consumer. If anyone ever contacts you by phone and asks for your SSN, hang up immediately and contact the company directly.
3. Clicking a link to be redirected—Some of today’s senior adults are relatively new to computers, smartphones, social media, email, and other handy tech tools. Unfortunately, that just means it’s easier than ever for scammers to reach out to senior citizens with what’s known as “phishing” emails. These emails can take on many forms, but they have something in common: they want you to click a link in the email and be redirected. They might be promising cheap pharmaceuticals or a medical benefits card, two major areas of concern for older adults. The link most likely contains harmful viruses that will install themselves on the computer to steal information or log keystrokes. Never click on a link in an email that you don’t have reason to trust. Go directly to the website yourself and then handle the issue there if you think it might be real.
New scams are created every day, so these are just a few of the red flags. Prevention is the best course of action, and that can happen when seniors educate themselves about the latest threats. Groups like the Identity Theft Resource Center, AARP, the Veterans Administration, and the Better Business Bureau (just to name a few) have online and phone resources in place to keep consumers up-to-date on these types of scams.
Eva Velasquez is CEO of IDentity Theft Resource Center.