March 9th, 2023
By Kathleen Yanik, Area Agency on Aging 1-B Senior Commumications Manager
Scammers are busy people. Just when you think you’ve got their number—they think of a new, terrible twist. Older adults are some of their favorite targets. The FBI estimates that older adults lose over $3 billion a year to financial scams and fraud.
I recently had my own experience with scams. My 91-year-old father got a phone call when I was visiting. I could hear the voice on the other end of the phone when he picked up. “Hello, Grandpa,” he said in a distressed tone. “It’s your grandson. I am in trouble.” Of course, it wasn’t his grandson. It was a scammer trying the grandparent’s scam—where the scammer pretends to be a grandchild in desperate straits and need of money—fast.
My dad understood and quickly hung up the phone. I was grateful he knew what to do.
My dad spotted the scam pretty quickly, but it would have been better if he hadn’t picked up the phone and given the scammers a chance to engage. I shared this with him after the call and then gave him some other tips. I wrote these tips down on a bright, green sheet of paper so he could keep them by the phone.
My dad and I also talked about typical ploys. One of his favorite sayings when I was growing up was: “Forewarned is forearmed.” As with most things, it turns out my dad was right. Knowledge is power. Being aware of what scams are out there can do a lot to help you or a loved one stay safe. Along with the grandparent scam, we talked about:
Government Imposter Scams
Someone claims to be a government employee and asks for personal information, demands payment, or makes threats. These scams primarily use the telephone, but scammers may also use email, text messages, social media, or U.S. mail.
Real government officials will NEVER:
In these scams, cybercriminals use fake identities and reach out using social media. They start a fast-paced, long-distance romance over the phone or internet. Once they have you hooked, they start asking for money.
Fake Technology Support Scams
Scammers call, text or email and pretend they are from a big tech company—like Apple or Microsoft. They tell you something is wrong with your computer, or you have a virus—and they need money to fix it. They might even contact you via a pop-up window.
The FTC has a webpage dedicated to fake technology scams. It’s worth taking a look and familiarizing yourself.
There are lots of scams that revolve around Medicare. Some of the most prevalent right now:
Plastic cards/chip cards: Callers are telling beneficiaries that Medicare is issuing new plastic cards with chips in them (Medicare uses paper cards). They then ask for a Medicare number and other personal information. The calls often threaten people and tell them they won’t be able to use their card if they don’t give them the information.
Covid-19 home tests: Scammers are calling and setting up fake websites and television ads offering “free” at-home Covid tests. They ask for your Medicare number, and then the tests never come. They use your number to make false Medicare charges. Beneficiaries can get free Covid tests from participating pharmacies. Here’s a partial list of participating pharmacies.
Some things to keep in mind:
If you been a victim of Medicare fraud. Our Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program (MMAP) can help. Call them at (800) 803-7174. You can call them if you’ve received a call like this. They will document it and report it.
Luckily, my dad was not a victim. But we did talk about what to do if he had been. Many older adults are too ashamed to admit they’ve been scammed, so they don’t ask for help. The truth is, these scammers are good, and it can happen to even the most astute among us. Asking for help is important.
If you think you’ve been scammed or defrauded:
Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology Successful Aging through Financial Empowerment (SAFE)
The SAFE program provides financial education to both older adults and caregivers and can help older adults recover from fraud and scams. Their First Fridays webinars cover lots of different topics.
Michigan Department of Attorney General
Their Consumer Protection webpage has information on avoiding and reporting scams.