Q. National Grandparents day got me to thinking; is the senior demographic still the most venerable for fraud and scam activity?
A. Thank you for a great question and belated Happy Grandparents Day to all you smart seniors! Today, older consumers have the lowest risk of being scammed, according to the 2017 BBB Scam Tacker Annual Risk Report www.bbb.org/scamtrackerriskreport. But that doesn't mean scammers aren't targeting this demographic. While data show that susceptibility declines with age, older scam victims reported higher median losses, likely due to the different types of scams aimed at this group, as well as their access to greater financial resources.
Scams targeting seniors:
The following scams frequently target seniors over other age groups. In these scams, con artists take advantage of seniors' strong ties with their family and other social groups, such as religious organizations. But they also prey on seniors who feel isolated. In the case of romance scams, these frequently target older people who have lost spouses and are looking for companionship.
Grandparent or emergency scams: This trick begins with a phone call from someone posing as your grandchild, niece or nephew, or other young family member. Scammers research victims using social media and often know family names, travel plans, and other details. The phony grandchild will claim to be out of town and in an emergency situation – anything from a car accident to wrongful arrest. The scam artist will urge you to send money ASAP and to not tell Mom or Dad.
Investment cons: These cons often target seniors because of their greater financial resources. They frequently prey on longstanding group connections – such as through a religious organization or an ethnic group – where members trust each other. Even if you are a savvy investor, you can still fall victim to this scam. Con artists are masters of persuasion, and they often learn the weaknesses of their targets and tailor their pitches accordingly
Romance scams: Seniors who are widowed or divorced are frequent targets of romance scams. These prey on lonely people looking to connect with someone, and can often take months to develop to the point where money changes hands. The emotional harm to the victim can be even more painful than the monetary loss. Con artists create compelling backstories, and full-fledged identities, then trick you into falling for someone who doesn't even exist.
Tips to avoid these cons:
Get another perspective. All of the above cons work because the target feels ashamed – or pressured – and keeps the scam a secret. If you've been targeted by something that seems suspicious, don't be embarrassed to seek an outside opinion from friends or family.
Do your research. If something seems strange – a new romance asking for money or an out-of-the blue emergency – search for it online. Scammers often reuse images or stories. Past victims will post about their experiences online, and you can learn from their tales. BBB.org/ScamTracker is a good place to read about others' experiences.
Know what your family members are sharing online. Seniors can be susceptible to emergency scams and other ploys because they aren't familiar with the information about themselves and their family available online. You may not have control over your family's social media accounts, but familiarize yourself with what they are sharing on Facebook and other outlets.
Resist the urge to act immediately. This rule holds true no matter the type of scam. Con artists almost always will pressure you into acting before you've had time to think it over. Don't cave to the pressure.
Be wary of anything too good – or too outrageous – to be true. As much as we want to believe that we can make millions with a small investment or win the love of a gorgeous stranger, chances are it's not true.
Visit www.bbb.org to read additional information on Senior Scams.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.