Scams against seniors: What to look out for and how to defend against them

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — “What the scammers knows is that if they can get you into a state of anxiety,” said Kathy Stokes, Director of Fraud Prevention Programs at AARP. “Some sort of heightened emotional state, then you’re not able to really access your logical thinking. But if you’re already there because of something else, their job is done.”

It’s a problem that is happening at an increasing rate. The phone rings, and the voice on the other end of the line sounds convincing, maybe even a little hectic, saying there’s been a problem with your bank account, your Amazon account, a member of your family has been harmed or is in danger, or some other scary scenario to tap into your emotions.

This is how scammers operate, and, according to Stokes, all they need to do is just set up the perfect scenario, catch the right non-suspecting person at the right time, and it’s a scammers jackpot.

And unfortunately, the group of people who are increasingly becoming easier to fall victims to these scams, senior citizens.

According to the AARP website, in 2019, 318,850 fraud complaints were made in total by people who reported their age to be 60 or older, representing $440 million in losses.

The scam world is one that is constantly evolving. Keeping up with the latest trends, news items and big events. So what kinds of scams are currently targeting seniors the most right now?

“You would think it’s all about COVID, and stimulus, and there are some of those,” Stokes said. “But really, the scammers have just been coming out of the woodwork. And the ones that tend to target seniors the most, are the social security imposter scam, the grandparent scam, the lottery scam, and the tech support scam.”

If you need an idea of how a scam can take on many different forms and looks, listen to the example Stokes gives of a stimulus scam, a hot item in the news cycle lately, and how easy it can be to catch an unsuspecting person off guard.

“Scammers like to follow the money,” Stokes said. “And stimulus has meant a lot of money around the country. So, they’re targeting the individual that’s hoping to get that stimulus money as quickly as possible. So early on, it was phone calls saying they were from the federal government and they just needed your bank account number to deposit your check. Or lately it’s been, ‘I can speed up that check for you’, or ‘yours has been delayed. I can get it to you faster.’ Those kinds of things that are preying on our need to get that money.”

While it may sound suspect from the beginning to you and I in a normal setting, Stokes said when the emotions are running high, things that normally may set off red flags, might just get the green light.

“And when you’re in that heightened emotional state, everything seems to make sense. You’re so excited you can’t wait to get your money! And people end up losing thousands of dollars this way, if not more.”

What are some of the tell-tale signs of a scam?

“Anytime you get a call out of the blue, telling you that something bad is going to happen or has already happened, that’s a big red flag. If it’s a federal government agency saying you owe money, or there’s a problem with your account and you need to act right away, understand that federal, state, or local agencies, they just don’t work that way. So, those are obviously scams.”

Stokes said if you want to give yourself the best chance at defeating a scammer, educate yourself.

“If you know about a specific scam, there’s data that shows you’re 80% less likely to engage to begin with, and if you do engage, you’re 40% less likely to lose any money or personal information. So, knowing about them is really important.”

And, Stokes explained, once you educate yourself on scams, share that knowledge with everyone you know. The more knowledgeable you and the people around you are about scams, the harder it is for scammers to take advantage.

Stokes also said AARP has a variety of resources and tools for fraud and scam education, like their Fraudwatch program. There, you can find information about the latest scams and how to spot them. They also have a weekly podcast called The Perfect Scam, and a series of interactive webinars titled Fraudcasts.

For more information on the Fraudwatch program and a variety of fraud defense resources, visit or call them at 877-908-3360.

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