Tips for Protecting Against Financial Fraud Targeting Older Individuals
It’s a growing problem—but knowing what to look out for can help you and your loved ones stay safe.
With the Oregon Department of Justice’s recent warning of “grandparent scams” targeting older Oregonians, it’s a great reminder that, no matter where you live, staying alert and being proactive can help protect you or your family’s finances.
Fraud tactics targeting older Americans (e.g., grandparent scams or fake tech support phone calls) can be crippling financially. For example, the Federal Trade Commission announced in 2020 such scams that were reported collectively cost Americans aged 60 and over more than $440 million in 2019 alone—and 2020 figures are expected to be higher due to COVID-19-related scams.
As trends show, fraud continue to be a lucrative endeavor for criminals, and with the 65-and-older population rapidly rising according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s a good time to shore up your finances—including working with your bank—if you fit into this demographic to help ensure you’re not a victim. And the same for other members in your family who are also 65 or older.
Be on the lookout
“We see fraud cases that target older individuals all the time,” says Maria Bass, a store manager with Umpqua Bank in East Placerville, CA, where a sizeable percentage of the population is over the age of 65. “Our goal is always to help them recover what we can and help ensure it doesn't happen again.”
One of the best ways to help protect against financial fraud targeting older individuals is to research and understand the most popular tactics so you’re prepared in the event you actually encounter one. Many of these scams are conducted over the phone, via email, or even through snail mail.
According to Maria, the most popular scams targeting older individuals include the following scenarios in which fraudsters pose as individuals representing seemingly legitimate entities:
- IT technical support scam
An IT technical support specialist calls you unexpectedly and says that they’ve detected a virus on your computer; for a fee and/or with your provided login credentials, they can “solve” the “issue.”
- Sweepstakes scam
You’ve randomly won a sweepstakes through a seemingly legitimate entity, and that all you need to do to claim your prize is pay for the taxes on your winnings up front.
- Job opportunity scam
An organization is hiring retirees to be secret shoppers. It sounds like a fun and lucrative opportunity that you can do at your own pace, and you just have to pay a fee upfront to enroll in the program.
- Tax scam
According to the IRS, you owe money on back taxes, and you need to make a payment immediately to avoid jailtime or seizure of assets (e.g., your house).
- Repair scam
Construction workers appear at your front doorstep and inform you that they’d been assigned by a local municipality to make repairs (e.g., replace sewer pipes, fill potholes) in the area, and now they need to collect payment from residents.
Tips for protecting your information
Maria and her team at Umpqua Bank have hosted several fraud-prevention events, where they share information about how anyone—especially seniors—can protect themselves from becoming victims of fraud. Here are some of her top tips for helping you and your loved ones protect against scams like the ones listed above:
- Monitor bank account and payment card activity closely. Consider setting up automatic notifications when withdrawals/payments exceeding a specific amount are made. Also consider setting up automatic bill payments to help ensure bills are paid.
- Handle your finances and mail yourself—or allow a trusted third-party (e.g., child, sibling) to do so—rather than a caretaker or other individual.
- Decline giving an untrusted third-party total autonomy of all of your financial assets.
- Report suspicious activity found on any of your accounts immediately (e.g., contact your bank if you see a large, unexpected amount withdrawn from your savings account).
- Place a freeze on your credit reports with the three major bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Obtain credit reports yearly so that you have a record of legitimate activity on your accounts.
- File your income taxes as early as possible each year. Also consider obtaining a PIN code from the U.S. Social Security Administration to help protect your tax filings.
Phone, email, and text message tips
- Don’t pick up phone calls from unknown callers. Screen them from your voicemail and then determine if you think the call is legitimate. Consider also using robocall-blocking devices.
- Don’t open emails or texts from unknown senders—and don’t click on links or attachments in such messages.
- Don’t reply to unexpected communications if they’re asking you to perform an urgent action involving your sensitive information (e.g., credit card number).
What to do if you discover you’re a victim of fraud
- Contact your local law enforcement department to report the incident.
- Place a fraud alert with
- The three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax
- Your bank(s)
- Your payment card company/companies
- Any other investment accounts (e.g., 401k provider)
- Request copies new of your credit report.
- Place a security freeze on your credit accounts if you haven’t already done so.
Visit the following resources for more information on how to fight fraud targeted towards older individuals: