For most of us, the holidays are full of giving, getting, and goodwill. But some bad actors use the holidays to take advantage of people’s generous spirits and frequently target older members of our communities more vulnerable to scammers and con artists. Billions of dollars are estimated to be lost by senior adults each year to scammers, according to the National Council on Aging.
Federal, state, and local officials across the country have alerted consumers, particularly older people, to be aware of several holiday fraud schemes. If purchasing gifts over a phone or laptop, make sure it’s on a secure network, use a credit card, and keep receipts. If purchasing gift cards at a store, take one directly from the counter, not off the rack.
When expecting a lot of packages over the holidays, shippers will often provide updates on the status of an order. Knowing this, scammers send phishing emails pretending to be from companies like FedEx and UPS to lure a person to phony webpages in order to share personal information. Look closely at delivery notifications and email updates before clicking on links or input information. UPS and FedEx won’t ask for personal information via email.
Packages that stack up outside on the porch are also tempting. Consider tracking packages so you’ll know when they’ve arrived. Setting up a different delivery address with a neighbor who is home during the day or your workplace to ensure packages are delivered safely should be considered. If traveling for the holidays, have any mail held at the post office.
Senior citizens have trust in many federal government agencies and scammers know this. Various fraud watch networks are inundated with calls this time of year about scams involving someone impersonating an IRS agent, Medicare official, Social Security Administration officer, or other government worker. Older persons are often targeted because they’re more likely to own their home, have retirement savings, and/or have excellent credit.
These schemes may include asking for Medicare numbers over the phone or promising a government grant in exchange for a large sum of money. Other schemes include stating that a personal social security number has been compromised, and finally, the tried-but-not-true sweepstakes scam that would give the consumer millions of dollars in exchange for fees and taxes before receiving any winnings.
No one should cooperate with a person claiming to be with the federal government who promises prizes or asks for personal information. The government will not call and ask for personal information, as they already have detailed Medicare and Social Security numbers. They will not ask for personal information such as a bank account number, nor will they contact anyone through social media, text, or email. Any important information will come through the U.S. Postal Service or a secure email that has already been set up for an individual. When in doubt, call a known number for an agency directly to confirm its validity.
The government will not reach out to offer a federal grant, as grants require an application for a specific purpose. They will not ask for any upfront payment before sending any benefit, grant, or refund, and they will not suspend benefits due because of someone else misusing your identification. Government agencies will not take any payments in prepaid gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency.
Likewise, the IRS cautions elderly taxpayers about telephone scams where the caller threatens to arrest a person for unpaid taxes. The caller usually demands immediate payment with a credit card or a prepaid debit card. The IRS does not call taxpayers without first sending an official notice through the mail, and the agency will not demand immediate payment without allowing for questions or appeal of the amount owed. Nor will they threaten to send police or other law enforcement to arrest anyone for non-payment.
Charity scams are always common but beware of requests for cash donations. Only donate cash to reputable organizations that have clearly marked donation containers. Never donate by giving gift cards or wiring money and research any potential charity. Begin by checking out the information with the Better Business Bureau or with CharityWatch.org; they suggest it is best to direct any donations to one or two charities rather than sending smaller donations to many organizations.
With economic anxiety high, scammers are also impersonating banks and lenders, offering bogus help with bills, credit card debt, or student loan forgiveness. Small businesses are also being targeted with scammers reaching out to owners with phony promises to help secure federal disaster loans or improve Google search results. Some email scams use legitimate logos from organizations to trick users into clicking on a button that unleashes malware or that may install spyware that can steal passwords, credit card numbers, and other data stored within the web browser. The first line of defense is your computer’s firewall which can detect and block many known versions of malware. Updating and layering your computer’s security systems will help protect from such invasions.
Some con artists aren’t as high-tech. One common deception is the “grandparent scam” in which an imposter calls a senior citizen with a fictitious story about a relative in trouble who desperately needs money to fix a car or get out of jail to come home. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests before offering help to someone who claims to be a relative (such as a grandchild or friend) to contact other family members to verify the emergency or urgent request. Kidnapping scams that demand a ransom or jury duty scammers stating that jury duty was missed so a fine must be paid at once work year-round. The Bureau also warns anyone not to provide personal financial information to anyone you don’t know.
For more information, reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at (855) 411-2372 or visit their website https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/fraud/