If you or someone you know has been targeted by a scam artist who is trying to steal money or personal information, you're not alone. According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion annually to fraud and exploitation, a number that is probably substantially underreported. 1
Most scams start with a call, an email, a text, or an official-looking letter that appears to be from a government agency or a legitimate company. Sometimes the scam artist will go door-to-door soliciting business or donations to charity.
Scam artists are very good at gaining the trust of well-meaning people by convincingly impersonating someone authoritative, knowledgeable, or trustworthy — such as an IRS agent, a tech repair person, or even a relative. They play on your sympathy or make convincing threats to pressure you to go along with a scam. "Send money or provide personal information right now," they say, "if you want to help someone or prevent something bad from happening." Here are some typical scenarios.
- IRS scam: "You owe back taxes and penalties. Send payment immediately via a wire transfer, or you will be arrested."
- Sweepstakes scam: "Congratulations, you've won a prize! To collect it, provide us with your bank account number so we can deposit a check."
- Grandparent scam: "Hi Grandma, it's me. Don't you recognize my voice? I've been in an accident and need money for car repairs. Send gift cards, and don't tell anyone because I'm embarrassed."
- Home repair scam: "I was just doing some work down the street for your neighbor, Bob, and I saw that you need some shingles replaced. I can do that for half the price I usually charge if you pay me in cash today."
If you are targeted, never give out personal information or send money. You don't need to make a quick decision. Call a friend, a relative, or the police for advice. Report the scam immediately to a fraud hotline such as the Senate Committee's toll-free hotline, (855) 303-9470.
1 U.S Senate Special Committee on Aging, 2019