Pandemic Scams Often Target Seniors

From bogus miracle cures to attempts to steal stimulus checks, the pandemic has given scammers an opportunity to use new tactics to defraud older adults – and a new report shows they’ve taken full advantage.

In its 2021 Fraud Book, the Federal Trade Commission estimated that, in 2020, older adults lost at least $602 million to fraud and scams – with $100 million lost to COVID-related schemes.

“In the early days of the pandemic, many seniors isolated themselves to avoid contracting the virus, but in the process were cut off from family and friends. Fraudsters saw an opportunity, and they pounced,” said Senator Bob Casey, Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “Eighteen months into the pandemic, federal agencies, state governments, and advocates warn of con artists who will pedal fake cures for coronavirus, charge outrageous prices for personal protective equipment and seek to steal stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.”

FBI Recommendations

The top five scams reported to the committee’s hotline are government impersonation scams. Others are sweepstakes scams, illegal robocalls/unsolicited phone calls, computer scams, and grandparent scams. To guard against fraudsters, the FBI recommends that you remind your senior to:

  • Make sure all offers are legitimate. Search online to verify contact information and details about any proposed offers. Other people may have posted warnings about individuals and businesses that are trying to run scams.
  • Resist pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. 
  • Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, mailings, and door-to-door service offers. 
  • Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses.
  • Make sure all computer anti-virus and security software and malware protections are up to date.
  • Disconnect from the internet and shut down the device if they see a pop-up message or locked screen. Also, pop-ups are regularly used by scammers to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up.
  • Be careful what they download. They should never open an email attachment from someone they don’t know, and they should be wary of email attachments that are forwarded to them. 
  • Take precautions to protect their identity if a criminal gains access to their device or account. Immediately contact financial institutions to place protections on their accounts. Also, monitor their accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.
  • Contact authorities immediately if they feel there is a danger to themselves or a loved one.

If you believe you or someone you know may have been a victim of elder fraud, contact your local FBI field office or submit a tip online.