Seniors are especially vulnerable to phone scams. Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to protect them.
As the world contends with COVID-19, we’re facing another epidemic: phone scams. They’re becoming more common than ever—and seniors are the most vulnerable to these threats. Older people are more likely to believe the false promises of a caller or to be lured in by a friendly voice if they’re feeling isolated. Learn how to help your aging loved ones protect themselves from these scams.
Block commercial solicitations
Sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or (888) 382-1222 to help weed out unwanted calls. Make sure your loved one understands that scam calls can still come in, though, so they know to stay on alert for them. Your phone may also allow you to block all unknown callers.
Additionally, the Direct Marketing Association allows you to opt out of mail advertisements for five years at a time. Avoid credit offers as well, either permanently or for a five-year period, through the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry’s website.
Discuss common scams
Talk with your loved one about common types of phone scams, which may claim to involve health insurance, Medicare, sweepstakes, or even home repair. Give examples of the types of things the caller might say, such as:
- Offering a prize
- Implying that the senior will face dire consequences if they don’t act now
- Requesting payment for services
- Asking for personal information like a Medicare or social security number.
For instance, one common phone scam says the utilities will be cut off without immediate action. Make sure your loved one knows never to agree to give money upfront for services a contractor claims are needed or let someone pressure them into making a quick decision about anything, no matter how small it seems. Explain that they can’t use caller ID to identify the caller, as scammers can make their number look like someone else’s.
Learn about the latest phone scams from the NCL’s Fraud Alerts or the AARP’s Watchdog Alerts service and explain them to your loved one. Be wary of internet scams, too, like being targeted by “old friends” on Facebook.
Create a simple protocol
Set an agreement with your loved one on how to handle phone calls. Most importantly, agree to never give information to a caller, no matter how legitimate it sounds. Instead, call the provider directly to ask whether the request was legitimate. Post a reminder of this protocol by the phone so your loved one won’t accidentally give out sensitive information. Ask your loved one to call you whenever a seemingly authentic call comes in so you can find out if it’s truly from the provider.
Likewise, research a company at the BBB website before buying products or services. Then, contact it via the phone number or email provided at its website, rather than using the info provided by the caller. By the same token, always research a charity before donating to it directly.
Provide financial oversight
As an additional safeguard, you might review your loved one’s financial statements periodically for unusual activity. Consumer Reports recommends having a trusted person without access to the accounts review a senior’s financial statements or subscribing to a service that will automatically check for suspicious transactions. You can ask the bank about sending financial statements to a trusted loved one.
When you speak with your loved one on a regular basis, you’ll have a sense of whether anything is amiss. If your loved one’s tone or behavioral patterns have changed, try to find out why. Staying in close communication can help you spot an issue soon after it arises, allowing you to address the problem immediately.
AARP, “How to Identify and Avoid Common Phone Scams”
AARP, “Watchdog Alerts”
BBB, “Start with Trust”
Caregiver, “Tips to Prevent Senior Scams”
Consumer Reports, “5 Ways to Stop Senior Citizen Scams”