There’s a myth that older adults don’t embrace new technologies, but seniors are more connected than ever. In fact, according to data from the Pew Research Center, 92% of people 65 and up have a cell phone, 61% have a smartphone, and 75% go online daily.
While there’s lots for seniors to love about the internet and mobile devices, spending more time online can also increase the risk of exposure to identity fraud and scams. Unfortunately, seniors are common scam targets because they often have nest eggs saved for retirement.
What’s more, when seniors are hit with fraud, they tend to lose a high dollar amount. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2020 Elder Fraud Report reveals that for those 60 and up who reported online fraud, the median loss was $9,175 per victim, with total annual losses clocking in at over $1 billion.
At Allstate Identity Protection, we’re committed to promoting digital safety for people of all ages. That’s a mission we share with our friends at the Better Business Bureau. Along with encouraging trustworthy business practices, the 109-year-old nonprofit is known for its in-depth scam survey research and community outreach initiatives, like its Senior Fraud Awareness program.
Today, we’re teaming up with the BBB to share about why the elderly may be susceptible to identity scams and how seniors — and their loved ones — can reduce their risk.
What makes seniors vulnerable to fraud and scams?
As one of the BBB’s community outreach directors, Marilyn Huffman frequently visits nursing homes, health care facilities, and community centers near her home in northern Arizona to teach seniors and their caregivers about fraud. Through her work as an educator, and through data submitted to the BBB Scam Tracker, Huffman has learned what makes older adults particularly vulnerable.
“Seniors often own their own homes and have fixed incomes — which means there is money to extort,” Huffman notes. “Plus, they’re often isolated, so they may welcome a call from a stranger or a salesperson.”
In addition, mental and emotional health concerns — which can be untreated or undertreated among the elderly — may make older adults more susceptible to scams.
“Dementia can play a role but more common is depression, which can lead to loneliness,” Huffman says.
Fraudsters know this, and they may be skilled at posing as a “friend” and building up a relationship over time, a process known as grooming. Successful cons may play to concerns that are common among the elderly — such as a desire to leave a financial legacy for children and grandchildren, or a fear of being alone. The end goal is to gain the victim’s trust, then steal money or personal information.
Simply ignoring chats, calls, and texts may be difficult for some seniors. “This is a generation that was raised to be polite, to answer the door,” Huffman says. “But if someone calls you or messages you and you don’t recognize the name, you do not need to let them in. You can be your own gatekeeper.”
Digital safety tips for seniors
By being aware of common fraud types and understanding privacy best practices, you can better protect yourself online. This goes for seniors as well as people of any age group.
On the internet, it’s all too easy for someone to make a false claim — so it’s best to be cautious about connecting with strangers online. Note that a scammer can “friend” people in your social media network in order to position themselves as a friend of a friend.
If you don’t actually know a person, the safest bet is to avoid chatting with them online or over the phone. In addition, Huffman recommends the following best practices:
- Avoid shopping on social media. Fake retail websites look more realistic than ever — and they can easily be promoted on social media. Scam victims see an ad, then shop and pay — but the goods never arrive. “If you’re going to shop online,” Huffman advises, “the Better Business Bureau recommends using websites of stores you’re familiar with in real life.” Even then, enter the URL yourself, rather than clicking a link from social media or an email.
- Don’t look for companionship online. Romance scams are one of the most common fraud types reported by men and women over the age of 65, and they frequently happen online. “It starts with a friend request or a message in the chat,” Huffman says. “Your new friend may message daily for a few weeks, then suddenly ask you to help with a financial emergency.” To be safe, Huffman recommends dating someone you’ve met in person. “Join a social group, volunteer with a museum or your local library, join a church group,” she suggests. “That’s how you can meet people, make friends, and live a more full life.”
- Be wary of unsolicited offers. Scammers often pose as service providers — such as tech support, financial advisors, or tax preparers — to gain access to personal details. Remember that credible providers won’t make unsolicited offers over email, text, or phone. “If you need a service, you should be the one reaching out to a company for help, not the other way around,” Huffman says. When in doubt, check a company's profile on the Better Business Bureau’s website, then call the company directly to conduct business.
- Never give away money out of emotion. If you’re asked to donate to a cause that seems urgent, or offered a deal that’s only available for a limited time, pause and consider your actions before sending a payment online. “Never act quickly or out of a sense of emotion,” Huffman says. “If you’re not sure, research who you’re talking with, ask a friend, or call the BBB. It’s a brave thing to ask questions.”
- Avoid sending money via wire transfer. Many common scam types, including the grandparent scam, involve an urgent request to wire money. Scammers like this payment method because it’s like sending cash. Once you wire money, it’s difficult to trace who receives it and nearly impossible to get it back. If someone asks you to wire money, it should raise a red flag.
If you’re a senior and you have a cell phone, it’s important to know that criminals often use scam texts and fake telemarketing calls to phish for money and personal information.
BBB Scam Tracker research reveals a recent rise in phishing texts offering too-good-to-be-true deals or offers. That’s just one more reason to treat messages from unknown senders with caution.
In addition, be aware that scammers may call, pose as someone you trust — like a rep from a government agency or charitable organization — and then ask for banking or personal information. Don’t give it to them.
If you know what fraudsters are up to, you’ll have a leg up — so check out the Federal Trade Commission’s tips for recognizing and avoiding phone scams.
“Don’t live in fear, but do live in awareness,” Huffman advises.
If you’re a senior and you think you’ve been scammed, here’s what to do next
If you think you’re being targeted in a scam, consider taking the following actions:
- Stop all contact with the scammer
- Reach out to someone you know and trust for help
- Call your local Better Business Bureau to report a scam or disreputable business practice
- If you shared money or personal information, contact your bank; monitor statements and credit reports carefully; and report the issue to the Social Security administration
Unfortunately, scams can lead to identity theft, especially when personal information is exposed. If you’re an Allstate Identity Protection member, you can call our customer care line at any time. Our Restoration Specialists spend their days educating people about identity theft. They’re here to help you:
- Determine if something is a scam
- Report fraud to the proper authorities
- Build a game plan for protecting your identity
- Recognize when a scam has become identity theft
- Fully manage the recovery process if identity theft occurs
If you have a senior in your life, you can take steps to safeguard them from scams
As a family member or caregiver, you can help protect the older adults in your life by simply listening.
“If you’re an adult child and you have an elder parent, the most important thing you can do is pay attention to what’s going on in their life,” Huffman says.
Ask your folks about their habits, especially online and mobile device activity, and keep an ear out for any mention of a “new friend.” Have conversations with your loved one about online safety and common scam types. “Take an active role and talk openly with them about protecting themselves and their money,” Huffman adds.
If you're an Allstate Identity Protection member, consider adding an aging parent to your account. Our family plans ensure coverage for up to 10 additional loved ones.
To add a family member, follow these simple steps:
- Log in to the Allstate Identity Protection portal
- Click the icon in the top right-hand corner
- Tap “Manage family members”
- Click “Add new member”
- Enter your loved one’s details for monitoring
Safeguarding seniors from identity fraud is a mission we take seriously — and so do our friends at the Better Business Bureau.
“At some point, we’ll all be seniors, and we’ll be hoping for the same vigilant care,” Huffman says.