COVID-19 Scams Targeting Older People

COVID-19 scammers have found a lucrative business in taking advantage of people amidst the pandemic. Their latest targets now include seniors. As a result, the Federal Trade Commission has already issued warnings about these crimes.  It has asked seniors to exercise vigilance about people who call purporting to be from healthcare, insurance, and government agencies.

Some of the common scams targeting seniors include:

1.    Social Security Benefit Suspension

In the U.S., the office of the Inspector General Social Security Administration recently issued a warning about a scam threatening the suspension of social security benefits. In this scam, criminals send beneficiaries letters through the US mail threatening the discontinuation or suspension of social security benefits. Of course, the scam conveniently offers a way out by providing a number which the beneficiary should call to prevent such adverse action.

Once you call this number, the criminals will attempt to collect your personally identifiable information (PII) –or your money. They can collect your information through wire transfers, retail card gifts, or by asking you to mail cash.

If someone calls or sends mail claiming to be from an SSA office and is asking for your PII, you should report the scam here.

A few things to note is that U.S. Social Security will never:

  • Threaten suspension or other legal action unless you pay a fee or fine
  • Promise benefits or assistance in exchange for money
  • Require you to pay through cash, prepaid debit cards, retail gift cards, or internet currency
  • Demand secrecy when handling any issues related to your social security
  • Send official communication containing PII through email

2.    Grandparent Scams

Scammers have no qualms approaching seniors with well-crafted tales of their grandchildren needing urgent help. As families are separated during the pandemic, criminals increasingly use spoofed calls to prey on grandparents.

For example, an Arizona man lost $960 after receiving a call that his grandson purportedly needed the money to help fight a DUI charge in Florida. Two men claiming to be the grandson and the grandson’s lawyer demanded that the grandparent to send the money immediately to keep the son from going to jail.  Of course, they insisted that the grandparent keep the matter private so the grandson’s parents wouldn’t find out.

To protect yourself from this type of scam, do not take calls from unknown numbers. Alternatively, if you receive a call about a family member, hang up and call the concerned person immediately to check on them.

Other critical tips include:

  • Never share any personal information over the phone. This includes your name, account numbers, social security numbers, and passwords. It applies no matter how demanding or convincing the caller is.  You should also ignore calls demanding immediate action.
  • If you receive a call that seems to be from a trusted source, hang up and call that source directly, especially if the person on the other end is requesting your personal information or payment
  • Do not click on any links you receive through email or text even if they appear to be from trusted sources

Protecting Yourself

One indicator of a scam is that the person contacting you often requires immediate action. They will bully you into submitting your information or taking the action they want you to take. Therefore, if you receive calls with such demands or are suspicious of the caller, hang up immediately and report the interaction to law enforcement. Additionally, you should file a claim with the FCC about any spoofing attempts or unwanted calls.


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