While some aspects of life have slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, financial scams targeting senior citizens have not. In fact, the pandemic has even prompted new schemes.
Although specific reasons for scammers’ fraud are new, their tactics are familiar. However, preventing fraud can be hard when those 60 and older aren’t interacting as often with friends, neighbors or senior-service providers due to efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
As always, exercise caution when accepting any offer of assistance. For example, you may feel ill or uncomfortable and need help with errands. At this time, you should reach out only to services and people you trust for supply or food delivery.
In a time of uncertainty, knowing about scam tactics is the best first step to avoid them. The Money Smart for Older Adults resource guide, as well as our scam prevention handouts and activities, offer telltale signs for a variety of scams.
Below are COVID-19-specific scams to look out for and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s recommendations for best practices.
COVID-19 Vaccines, Cures, Air Filters or Tests
The FTC has warned about an increase in scams related to COVID-19 vaccines, test kits, cures, treatments or air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from your home.
- At present, there is no approved vaccine and no “magic” cure-all for COVID-19.
- Testing is available, but only through local and state governments — never in a kit delivered to your home.
- Any communication claiming to sell these items is a scam.
Fake COVID-19-related Charity Scams
In a charity scam, a thief poses as a charity (or makes one up) to get money from you.
- Be careful about any charity calling you to ask for a donation.
- Be wary of any call following up on a donation pledge you do not remember making.
- If you wish to financially assist a charity, visit its website to ensure your money goes to the right place.
Scammers could use the pandemic as cover to pose as a grandchild, relative or friend claiming to be ill, stranded in another state or country, or otherwise in trouble —asking you to send money or gift cards quickly and secretly.
- Don’t panic! Take a deep breath and then get the facts.
- End the communication, then call your grandchild, relative or friend to confirm the story.
- If they’re not available to confirm or deny the story, reach out to a mutual relative or friend.
- Never send money unless you’re sure the real person has contacted you and they legitimately need your help.
Social Security Scams
Scammers may mislead people into believing they must provide personal information, gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency or cash to maintain regular payments.
- Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments will neither suspend nor decrease due to COVID-19 circumstances.
- Treat any communication to the contrary as a scam.
- Report those communications to the Social Security Administration Inspector General.
The Bottom Line
- Always say “no” if you are contacted by someone — by mail, phone, text, email or in person — who asks for the following:
- Social Security number
- Bank account information
- Credit card account information
- Medicare ID number
- Driver’s license number
- Any other personally identifiable information
- Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission.
- The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, can connect older adults and their families to services online or by calling (800) 677-1116.
- For additional information about consumer-finance resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.
- For additional information about the government’s response, visit the federal government’s website.
Tonya Short, Health & Human Sciences Educator, Purdue Extension – Knox County