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The FTC reports consumers lost almost $8.8 billion to scams in 2022. As technology advances, so do the types of fraud criminals are using. Scams by email, phone, and text are now so pervasive that anyone can be a victim. You don’t have to be naïve or gullible for scammers to take advantage of you. In fact, according to the FBI, an increasing number of victims of fraud are people over the age of 60. Seniors need to be aware of the risk as the types of scams continue to evolve.
There are several types of Medicare scams targeting seniors. These have the goal of stealing your money, your identity, or your Medicare benefits through fraudulent billing. Callers may tell you there is a problem with your Medicare ID card or that you qualify for free benefits. In either case, they will try to acquire your personal information.
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from Medicare, hang up at once. Medicare will not call you unless you call first asking for assistance. If Medicare needs to contact you, they will send you a letter.
Social Security Scams
With almost 67 million Americans receiving benefits, it is no surprise Social Security is a frequent target for scam artists. Social Security fraud can take many forms. Criminals use phone calls, emails, text messages, and letters to impersonate Social Security personnel and trick people into providing their personal information.
Social Security will never threaten you or threaten legal action. They will never ask you for personal information such as your Social Security number or date of birth. If you are uncertain about a communication you receive, call Social Security directly at 1-800-772-1213.
The Newest Scams: Artificial Intelligence and Voice Cloning
In a well-known scam, criminals call pretending to be a police officer or attorney, urgently requesting money to help a family member or friend out of trouble. New advances in technology have made it possible for artificial intelligence (AI) to replicate a person’s voice. You may receive a phone call where someone who sounds exactly like your grandchild or another family member calls you in distress and asks you for money. When you couple that with a scammer’s ability to “spoof” the phone number you see on your caller ID, the scam becomes even more convincing.
AI is available to anyone. Criminals have quickly realized its potential to deceive potential victims. Scammers only need a few recorded words from sites like YouTube or TikTok to replicate a voice. Technology is moving so quickly that law enforcement agencies are struggling to regulate it. Most scammers are never caught – and once you have transferred the money, getting it back is almost impossible.
Fraud Alerts from “Trusted” Sources
Because scammers can “spoof” phone numbers, you may occasionally receive a call that appears to be from your bank, Amazon or other retailers. Their name may even appear on your caller ID. The caller typically says they are checking on a potentially fraudulent charge on your account. At first, it seems legitimate but then they start asking you questions.
Real fraud verification calls will only ask if you approve the charge, in which case you can reply with a simple yes or no. Never answer additional questions or provide any details about your account. Instead, hang up and call or email the company directly to follow up on potential fraud.
How to Protect Yourself
It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that we all need to be suspicious of any type of unsolicited contact we receive by phone, mail, email, or text. Here are some tips to protect yourself:
- Scammers want to create a sense of urgency to make you act quickly before you can think rationally about what is happening. Victims often say they experienced a sense of panic and felt they needed to respond immediately. Experts say the most important thing you can do is PAUSE before responding.
- Don’t respond to anyone asking for money, even if they sound like a family member or friend. Hang up immediately and call them back directly. If you can’t reach them, call another family member or trusted family friend who can help assess the situation or call the police.
- Don’t answer a phone number you don’t recognize and don’t trust your caller ID. The person will leave a message if it’s important.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited emails or text messages. Don’t click on any links or download attachments. If you feel the contact could be legitimate, reach out to the company or individual by looking up the phone number or website. Do not use any of the contact information provided in the email or text.
- Scammers often ask to be paid with gift cards – this is always a red flag. In addition, never pay someone you don’t know with Venmo or PayPal, as scams can be perpetrated through these apps.
- Always guard your personal information. This includes your full name, date of birth, home address, Social Security number, Medicare ID, credit card number, and banking information. Shred any documents containing this information. Be careful what you share online. A scammer only needs a couple pieces of your personal information to be able to answer your security questions and reset your passwords.
- Update your passwords frequently, especially for financial accounts. When websites are hacked, passwords are often compromised. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. Check your accounts regularly for suspicious activity.
Older consumers are less likely to report being the victims of fraud than any other age group. Some seniors feel ashamed about falling victim to scams. But reporting these crimes to the authorities is important. Although you may not be able to recoup your lost money, you may help prevent others from becoming victims. Anyone 60 years or older can report fraud to the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-372-8311 or to the FTC.
If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to the agents at Western Asset Protection for help. Contact us today.