Wisconsin Better Business Bureau
Press Release

BBB Scam Alert: Top tricks used to scam older adults


By - May 26th, 2021 07:08 am

Milwaukee, Wis. – No matter your age, no one is immune to scams. In the most recent 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report, romance scams continued to be the riskiest scams for ages 55 through 64, and travel/vacation/timeshare scams were again the riskiest for ages 65+. Regardless of the type of scam, BBB recommends the following precautions to avoid becoming a victim.

Tips to spot a potential scam

Watch out for phone fraud. The Federal Trade Commission reports that fraudulent telemarketers often direct their calls at older adults. Scammers will claim to be with a government agency or pose as a bank employee. They may sound friendly and courteous or aggressive and threatening. They may even have a caller ID to match their claims.

However, caller IDs can be easily spoofed and government agencies DON’T make unsolicited calls. It is vital to cultivate a healthy distrust for unsolicited callers and avoid sharing personal information. Never feel pressured to act. When in doubt, hang up the phone and call the official source to verify unexpected or unusual claims. You can also reduce the number of unsolicited calls by registering your phone number with the National Do-Not-Call registry at 1-888-382-1222 or Donotcall.gov.

Know the red flags. Most scammers use common tactics to get your money or personal information. Keep an eye out for the following too-good-to-be-true claims:

  • “Free,” “low cost,” or “buy one, get one” deal
  • Request for unusual payment types (i.e. prepaid debit cards or wired funds)
  • Claims that you only pay postage or administrative fees
  • Pressure to act now and/or aggressive tones
  • Deals that must be secured with a credit card or bank account information
  • Sure-fire investment opportunities
  • Charities that send 100% of your donation directly to the victims

Only hire trustworthy, licensed contractors. Older adults often need extra help around the house and may hire someone to complete a renovation project and landscape work. However, never hire someone who just shows up at the door, and don’t let them in or around your home for an inspection. Instead, if you need repair work, use BBB.org to search for accredited businesses and ask friends and family for recommendations. Then, research the companies, keeping a close eye on past reviews or complaints. Always make sure the contractor or company is properly licensed and never pay in full upfront. Read BBB’s Tips on Hiring a Contractor.

Strange phone call? Might be an emergency scam: Older adults can be susceptible to emergency scams and other ploys because they aren’t familiar with the information about themselves and their family available online. This trick begins with a phone call from someone posing as a grandchild, niece or nephew, or another 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 not tell Mom or Dad. Read more about emergency scams.

Watch out for Medicare fraud: Here is one scam typically directed towards older Americans: free medical equipment. Medicare fraud has cost the American public more than $6 billion, and a large part of that is fraud around “durable medical equipment,” such as knee braces or walkers. By making repeated calls, scammers badger Medicare recipients into taking “free” medical equipment. Then, they bill Medicare for it.  By law, no one is allowed to make unsolicited calls to consumers about durable medical equipment. If you get such a call, just hang up.

Do your research before making an investment: Investment cons often target older adults 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. Read more about investment cons.

Think before you click. Older adults may be less comfortable with technology making them more vulnerable to phishing schemes and hacking.  Links found in unsolicited emails or messages on social media can be especially dangerous. They may look like they lead to an official website, but they will download malware onto your computer that gives scammers access to your sensitive information. Protect yourself by only clicking on links that come from people you know and trust and by keeping your antivirus software up to date.

Be on guard for “sweetheart” swindles. Older adults who are widowed or divorced are frequent targets of romance scams. If you meet someone online who shows romantic interest in you, don’t be too quick to trust them. These scams can often take months to develop to the point where money changes hands. Con artists create compelling backstories, and full-fledged identities, then trick you into falling for someone who doesn’t even exist.  A common romance scam involves charming the victim and then asking for money for medical expenses, family concerns, or other reasons that pull at the heartstrings. Once the con artist receives the funds, they disappear for good.  Read more about romance scams.

Reach out to someone you trust. Scammers want victims to feel isolated. Don’t hesitate to contact a friend, family member, or organization you trust for advice. A second opinion can greatly reduce your risk. Read more about phishing scams.

Take time to research your purchases. Scammers often make unsolicited offers to older adults for medical supplies, anti-aging products, and vitamins and supplements. They might contact you over the phone, as a door-to-door salesperson, or via online messages. They make incredible offers with the goal of getting their hands on your personal information or money. Before you agree to purchase the next miracle product that comes your way, take a few minutes to research the company to make sure their products and offers are legitimate. Read about free trial offer scams.

Guard your personal information carefully.  Never share your personal information with a stranger on the phone, in an email, on a social media network, or otherwise. Keep careful records of your transactions by reviewing your bank and credit card statements regularly. Check them for accuracy and then shred any documents that include personal information before throwing them away.  Read more about data privacy.

For More Information

To learn more about how to avoid common scams, visit BBB.org/AvoidScams. Read more about fake Medicare calls and medical equipment fraud.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a scam that targets older adults, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker.

For more BBB news, scam alerts, and tips, visit BBB.org/news.

For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin, 414-847-6000 or 1-800-273-1002. Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at BBB.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Wisconsin which was founded in 1939 and serves the state of Wisconsin.

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