10 Tricky Internet & Phone Scams and How to Avoid Them

Cellular phones and access to the internet has drastically changed the lives of people across the world. For the first time in history, humans can communicate with each other and access answers to questions instantly, from pretty much anywhere. The benefits are vast and incredible. At the same time, while older adults are using the internet and smartphones more frequently, there are risks.

Internet and phone scams have become a growing issue as technology has evolved and become more advanced. Scammers use internet software to take advantage of people by using fraud schemes that trick people into giving them money. In 2018, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center received 351,936 complaints of internet and phone crimes, accounting for more than 2.7 billion dollars in losses. Of all scam victims, seniors are targeted more than any other age group because they tend to have more time and willingness to listen. They are also often more sympathetic and trusting than younger generations.

Scammers use various tactics, such as acting friendly, helpful, or sympathetic, to get people to fall for their schemes. In some cases, scammers inflict fear on their victims to scare them into paying them. Scammers are aware that many older adults have a lot of money in their savings accounts after retirement. They are also considered low-risk targets because these scams often go unnoticed and unreported due to the lack of technical knowledge.

The best way to avoid internet and phone scams is to be aware of common scams, including the top ten scams targeting seniors, found by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). It is then easier to identify and avoid falling for these scams:

Avoid These 10 Popular Tech Scams!

  1. Internet Fraud

    Many older victims have less knowledge of the internet, so they risk falling for internet fraud scams. A popular form of internet fraud is for scammers to send an email, posing as the victim's bank, saying they need to update their bank information for security purposes. Also, fake online advertisements for anti-virus software allow scammers access to the victim's personal information.

  2. Medicare/Health Insurance Scams

    Scammers can easily exploit older victims over the phone by impersonating health insurance representatives seeking personal information, like social security numbers or billing information. This scam mainly targets Medicare beneficiaries because there is little to no research needed since anyone over 65 years old qualifies for Medicare.

  3. Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

    prescription drugs and medicationsOlder adults needing high-priced prescription medications have turned to the internet to find coupons or better prices. Sometimes these online prices and coupons are scams. Also, fake medicines have become a problem. Beyond hurting consumers in the pocketbook, counterfeit medications may contain unsafe substances that could be a health risk.

  4. Investment Schemes

    Scammers posing as financial advisors offering a free consultation try to gain access to people's savings accounts and retirement funds. Seniors are targeted for this scam more often because they are more likely to have money set aside for retirement. Because of this, older adults are also more vulnerable to becoming a victim of fraudulent investment scams.

  5. Fraudulent Anti-Aging Products

    Internet ads for fake anti-aging products can be found with increasing frequency. Most are probably harmless, but there is also a risk for consumers of being exposed to harmful chemicals.

  6. Homeowner Scams

    Home repair frauds often target seniors. These swindlers commonly pressure older consumers to make an advance payment for work that never gets done.

  7. lottery ballsSweepstakes, Lottery, and Contest Scams

    Scammers contact people either by mail or phone, congratulating them for winning a prize, and say a fee is required to obtain the prize. Once the payment is received, the scammer sends them a fake check. The victim only realizes this is a scam when the check does not clear.

  8. Funeral and Cemetery Scams

    The FBI has raised the alarm about two types of funeral and cemetery scams targeting seniors. First, funeral directors take advantage of grieving families to add unnecessary funeral expenses. Second, scammers contact bereaved families, claiming the deceased owed them money, and insist on payment of the fictitious debt.

  9. Telemarketing/Phone Scams

    skeptical man phone telemarketing scamsMiscellaneous phone and telemarketing scams are among the most commonly used against older adults. Scammers often claim to be a family member in financial trouble and ask for victims to wire them money. Another tactic used by phone scammers is to pose as a fake charity and ask for a donation. Phone scams leave no paper trail, so it is difficult to trace the scammer. Unfortunately, once someone falls for a phone scam, their name and information are often shared with other scammers, allowing them to be scammed more than once.

  10. The Grandparent Scam

    This scam requires no research and works by playing on the victim's emotions. A scammer will call and say, "Hi, Grandma (or Grandpa), do you know who this is?" Once the victim guesses based on which of their grandchildren has a similar voice to the caller, the scammer asks for money. Once the victim agrees to help, the scammer asks them not to tell anyone because they are embarrassed that they got themself into financial trouble.

    Payment for these and many other scams are made via popular reloadable debit cards like Green Dot. The scammer will direct the victim to purchase a debit or gift card and provide the card's serial number. The criminal then has access to the funds.

Avoiding Scams

Being aware of the types of scams listed above is the first step. While watching out for those, here are some tips to further avoid scams:

  • Know that scammers pressure people to act immediately, so resist the urge to make quick and impulsive purchases over the phone.
  • Scammers also tell people to pay them in a specific way, such as a money transfer service or prepaid debit card. It's a big red flag when people ask to be paid in this way. Don't give out personal or financial information to anyone over the phone unless you called them about a specific request and verified the phone number beforehand.
  • Try to avoid answering unknown numbers and hang up on automated voice calls.
  • If you are asked to give money to a person or cause you have not dealt with before, talk to a trusted friend or relative before sending the funds. This second opinion could save a lot of money or emotional stress if the intended recipient turns out to be a fraudster.

If you suspect you are the target of an internet or phone scam, you can report it to:

Scammers will continue to target older adults. However, if common-sense precautions are taken, the chances of being a scam victim are significantly reduced. Follow these tips and keep your hard-earned money safe! 

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