Coronavirus Scams Affecting Our Seniors
The coronavirus pandemic has brought about many challenges as we all do our very best to adjust to a “new normal” of living in lockdown and adhering to the Government’s call for social distancing across the globe. Many are struggling with feelings of fear and confusion during this unprecedented time and adapting to a life of isolation has been difficult to say the least. However, with respect to seniors, loneliness and social isolation have been on-going public health concerns long before the coronavirus arrived on our shores which explains why the older adult and elderly populations are more susceptible to getting scammed than any other demographic.
The saying goes “when times get tough, the tough get tougher” but, for con artists, when times get tough, they get more creative. Con artists prey on fear, confusion and hysteria that are inevitable during times like these. The following are examples of some of the most recent schemes that are targeting older adults:
- Coronavirus test kits – Scammers are reaching out to folks via telephone and even sometimes via text offering coronavirus test kits to obtain sensitive, personal information like a credit card number or specific banking information. You should never provide any payment or personal information to an unknown and untrustworthy source. Coronavirus tests are NOT openly available to everyone so if a random person offers you an at-home test, that should serve as a “red flag” that this is a scam. You should only accept a coronavirus test or a referral for a coronavirus test from your healthcare professional.In addition to the “at-home tests”, we are starting to see an influx of products and services surfacing the internet claiming to help prevent or cure the coronavirus. Do not fall for the trap! Some of the most genius minds on the planet are working together to try to find a vaccine and cure for this disease. Therefore, DO NOT purchase any products or services claiming to help prevent or cure the virus because, if the products or services really worked, you would have heard about it from licensed and trained healthcare specialists.
- Social Security Administration/Government Agency Impersonations – Government agency impersonations are not a new trick but the message is slightly different. Most recent examples of this scam include a scammer claiming to be calling from the Social Security Administration and telling the elderly victim that their benefits will be suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic unless they make a payment or provide personal information to help make them exempt. This is simply not true so if you or your loved one receives a call like this, the best thing to do is hang up immediately and report this to your local authorities.
- Insurance Scams – One of the oldest and most common scams among older adults is when a scammer tries to obtain Medicare or Medicaid identification information by enticing victims with an option for low-cost health and life insurance or similar discounted product. The rule of thumb is to treat your Medicare or Medicaid ID number with the same sensitivity that you treat your social security number with. Do not provide this information to anyone over the phone, text or email!
- Relief/Aid-related Scams – There are many relief funds that have been established since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and scammers are using this increase in charitable giving and relief to steal from unsuspecting victims. Scammers may call and ask if an individual would like to donate to a specific cause or will send an individual an email with false links to a non-existent charity where they will be prompted to enter personal information and provide credit information. It is important to remember that these scammers are professionals- they can be very convincing over the phone and can be very creative in how they structure and design an email so that it appears legitimate. Do not make a blind donation to a charity you are not sure exists. Take to the internet to research any charity that you are unaware of to validate its legitimacy before making any sort of monetary donation.In addition, because of our present economic climate, many people across the nation are receiving stimulus checks from the Government. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently been made aware of several scams whereby an individual is asked to provide bank information so that funds can be released. Again, do not ever provide sensitive personal information including banking information to an unreliable source. If you are due to receive a stimulus check, you will not need to provide any bank information so please keep this in mind!
- The Grandparent Scam – In this scam, a con artist pretends to be a beloved grandchild or family member who desperately needs financial assistance to bail them out of some sort of trouble. Especially since many people are getting laid off as a result of the virus, this creates even more of an opportunity for a scam like this to happen. Do not fall for any of these calls! Instead, say that you will call them back and then hang up and call someone in your family to check in on the person that supposedly called you to see if they are in any grave danger or in any trouble.
According to the University of Michigan’s National Poll on Healthy Aging (a project sponsored by the AARP), it has been confirmed that one in three seniors report feeling lonely. Many elders fall for these scams because they are lonely and feel a sense of comfort talking on the phone- even if they are speaking with a complete stranger. Especially during these times of isolation where seniors have limited contact with any family members or friends they do have, it is so important to check in on any older adults and seniors that you know to make sure they are OK and to help them feel socially connected. To further prevent falling victim to scams, please keep in mind the following:
- Do not answer calls or text messages from unknown or suspicious numbers
- Never provide sensitive personal information or banking information over the phone, via text or through email
- Immediately hang up or cease communications with anyone pressuring you to share sensitive information with them
- Even if an email looks like it came from a trusted source, refrain from clicking on any suspicious links. If you are unsure of whether you should click a link or not, contact the person or the organization the email came from (if you believe it to be a valid source). If the email is from an unknown person and/or organization, do not click any links!
- Always research the legitimacy of a charitable organization before donating money