Fraud & Scams

4 New Scams Targeting Seniors

Cameron Huddleston
Cameron Huddleston
May 8, 2024
4 New Scams Targeting Seniors

Nearly 3 million Americans reported losing more than $10 billion to fraud and scams in 2023, according to the latest figures recently released by the Federal Trade Commission. Those hardest hit were older adults.

Although younger adults reported losing money to fraud more often, older adults lost a lot more money when targeted by scammers. The median fraud loss reported by adults ages 20 to 29 was $400 versus $900 for adults ages 70 to 29 and $1,360 for adults 80 and older. 

“These criminals know no bounds,” says Kathy Stokes, director of Fraud Prevention Programs at AARP. “When they get ahold of someone who is older, they’re thinking, ‘Deep pockets here.’”

What’s worse is that scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to steal from people. If they get your money, it’s often impossible to get it back. So, it’s important to be aware of the latest tactics scammers are using to avoid becoming their next victim. “If you know about a specific scam, you’re 80% less likely to engage with it,” Stokes says. 

Here’s what to know about the latest scams targeting older adults and what you can do to stay safe.

Bank text message scams

One of the most concerning scams AARP’s Fraud Watch Network has been seeing when older adults are victims are fake text messages from banks, Stokes says. Bank text message scams aren’t new, but now they are even more convincing. 

How the scam works: You receive a text that appears to be from your bank asking you to confirm a transaction on your account. For example, it might say, “You were charged $783 for an iPhone. Was this your transaction? Click Y or N.” If you click N, you’ll receive a call from someone claiming to be with your bank’s fraud team telling you that your account has been hacked. The scammers are convincing, Stokes says, because they have information about you, your account and your recent transactions—information is sold on the dark web after data breaches.

The scammers then offer to help by setting up a second account for you so you can transfer your money to it from the compromised account. Or, you might be asked to withdraw all the money in your existing account, feed the cash into a cryptocurrency ATM and use a QR code provided by the scammers, which diverts the money to their cryptocurrency wallet.

What you should do: Do not respond to text messages that appear to come from your bank—or any other businesses where you have an account. “We cannot trust incoming messages right now,” Stokes says. “We can’t trust our phones. We can’t trust email.”

Instead, log onto your account online to check your transaction history or call the bank, retailer or service provider directly to find out if there is a problem with your account. If you don’t already have online access to all of your accounts, set it up so that you can check your accounts whenever you want and can set up alerts to receive notifications when there are transactions on those accounts, Stokes says.

You also could use a service such as Carefull to monitor your bank, credit card and investment accounts and alert you to any unusual activity and signs of fraud in those accounts. You can try Carefull for free for 30 days.

Check washing and check cooking scams

If you pay most or all of your bills by check, you’re putting yourself at risk of check washing scams and check cooking scams. 

How the scam works: Criminals have been stealing mail from home mail boxes, knocking over blue postal boxes and even attacking mail carriers to steal keys to open postal boxes, Stokes says. Then, they use nail polish remover or other chemicals to remove ink on checks and rewrite the check to whomever they want in an amount they want. 

Lately, criminals have gotten more sophisticated by creating digital replicas of stolen checks and altering them. Often, the fraudulent checks can slip by undetected. “There are a lot fewer people writing checks these days, so the banks haven’t been putting a lot of fraud controls on checks,” Stokes says.

What you should do: “If you transact electronically, you are safer than sending a check through the mail,” Stokes says. Set up automatic bill payments through your financial institution or service providers, if you haven’t already done so. If you have to mail a check, take it to the post office and put it in a blue collection box within the building.

Also, check your bank account regularly or use the Carefull service to receive alerts when large checks are posted to your account. If you don’t catch and report fraudulent checks fast enough, you might not be compensated by your bank for your loss, Stokes says.

Celebrity impersonator scams 

If you follow celebrities on their social media accounts such as Facebook and Instagram, be careful what you post on their feeds. Scammers are watching and waiting to take advantage of your superfan status.

How the scam works: Scammers are sending messages to fans who post on celebrities’ social media pages. They claim to work with the celebrity or to be the celebrity and offer an opportunity to get special access to the celebrity. Some are using AI to replicate the voice or image of the celebrity in their outreach. They might offer tickets to an event, a chance to meet the celebrity or to invest in a cause the celebrity supports. The offers can vary, but the scammers will typically ask for some sort of payment.

“You get caught up in it because you’re the biggest fan ever,” Stokes says. “It’s that emotional response they’re looking for and it ends up in theft—major theft.”

What should you do: “You can follow anybody you want,” Stokes says. “Just don’t post on their social media feeds because criminals are following them.” If you do leave a comment and get a direct message from the celebrity, assume it’s a scammer.  

Multi-stage grandparent scam 

The grandparent scam has been around for years, but criminals have figured out a way to be even more convincing.

How the scam works: Scammers still use the classic approach of calling and claiming to be a grandchild or other family member in trouble with the law and in need of money. However, the call for help appears more legitimate now because you are provided a number to call to make a payment and a case number to reference. In some cases, “couriers” are sent to victims’ homes to pick up payments. 

What you should do: If you get a call from someone claiming to be a family member in need, hang up and call the family member directly. If you can’t reach that family member, contact his or her parents or siblings to find out if there is a problem. Don’t believe any warnings you might have received in the initial call to not reach out to other family members or anyone else.

See: Scammers Using AI Voice Cloning in Family Emergency Scams

Bottom line

If you receive a suspicious call, email or text message, don’t engage. Instead, reach out to someone you trust to get a second opinion about what to do in the situation.

If a scammer steals money from you, alert your financial institution and file a report with law enforcement. Ask for a copy of the report to have documentation. “The more we report, the more law enforcement will have to deal with this,” Stokes says.  

Keep Reading: Anatomy of a $50,000 Scam

Cameron Huddleston

Cameron Huddleston

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