Increased risk for scams targeting older people.

The holiday season is a time of joy and generosity but also a time of increased risk for scams and fraud targeting older people. Scammers may use various tactics to trick seniors into giving away their money or personal information, such as impersonating relatives, charities, or government agencies.  Some offer fake deals or prizes or send malicious links or attachments.

According to a 2022 AARP report, three-quarters of U.S. consumers have experienced or been targeted by at least one form of fraud that can be tied to the holidays.

Steps that seniors and their families can take to protect themselves.

Fortunately, there are some steps that seniors and their families can take to protect themselves and their loved ones from becoming victims of these scams. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

Be wary of unsolicited calls, emails, or texts.

Do not answer or respond to unknown numbers or messages, and do not click on any links or attachments. If you receive a call or message claiming to be from a relative, friend, charity, or government agency, hang up and contact them directly using a verified phone number or website. Never give out your personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you first.

Do your research before making a donation or purchase.

If you want to support a cause or buy a product during the holidays, make sure you are dealing with a legitimate and reputable organization or company. Check the name, address, and phone number of the charity or business, and look for reviews, ratings, or complaints online. Avoid websites or social media posts that offer too-good-to-be-true deals or discounts, and look for signs of fraud, such as spelling errors, poor grammar, or suspicious payment methods.

Verify that the emergency or urgent request is genuine.

Before offering your help to someone who claims to be a grandchild (or other relative/friend), be sure to telephone your family to verify that the emergency or urgent request is genuine. Modern technology can mimic voices you think you recognize.

Be cautious when asked for personal information.

Be cautious when asked for personal information, especially Social Security numbers, bank account details, or credit card information. Legitimate organizations don’t ask for this information in unsolicited communications.

Beware of a caller who insists on secrecy.

Do not allow anyone to discourage you from seeking information, authentication, support, or counsel from family members, friends, or trusted advisers prior to making any financial transaction.

Call the IRS directly.

If you have received a notice from the IRS claiming that you owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 for confirmation. The IRS will never call to demand immediate payment nor call without mailing a bill first. The IRS does not require you to use a particular payment method, such as a prepaid debit card.  They also will never threaten you with arrest for not paying.

Use secure and reliable payment methods.

When shopping or donating online, use a credit card or a trusted online payment service, such as PayPal. Avoid using cash, wire transfers, gift cards, or prepaid debit cards, as these are harder to trace and recover if you are scammed. Also, check your bank and credit card statements regularly for any unauthorized or suspicious charges and report them immediately to your financial institution.

Seniors should scrutinize invoices.

Scammers may send fake invoices for goods or services that were never ordered or received. Seniors should scrutinize invoices, particularly from unfamiliar companies, and contact the business directly to confirm the invoice’s legitimacy.

Protect your devices and accounts.

Make sure your computer, smartphone, and tablet have the latest security software and updates installed and use strong and unique passwords for your online accounts. Consider using a password manager to store and generate your passwords and enable two-factor authentication for extra security. Also, avoid using public Wi-Fi networks or devices for any online transactions, as they may expose your data to hackers.

Consult with a trusted family member or financial advisor.

Before making significant financial or investment decisions, it’s a good idea to consult with a trusted family member or financial advisor. A second opinion can help spot potential scams or risky investments.

By following these tips, you can enjoy the holidays with peace of mind and confidence and prevent scammers from ruining your festive spirit. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if you are ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice from someone you trust.