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The Savvy Online Consumer

Top 10 Scams & Schemes Targeting Seniors Online

By Andrew Grossman on July 26th, 2013 • 4 comments

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies”, or so Bette Davis famously said. And things haven’t gotten any easier: seniors today are subject to increasing numbers of sophisticated internet scammers. More seniors than ever are online–53% of adults over 65 in 2012—and they are roughly twice as likely to be the victim of an online scam, compared to the broader population¹ ² ³. The following are the top 10 scams reported on SiteJabber that are particularly dangerous for seniors.

1. Work at home scams

A slow economy, sagging equity markets, and mandatory early retirements have combined with increasing life expectancy  to push millions of seniors to look for new sources of income. Work at home scams and schemes have unfortunately stepped in to meet the demand for non-physically demanding, convenient, part-time work. Common examples include filling out online surveys, clicking on ads, selling products and services to friends (multi-level marketing schemes), data entry, and stuffing envelopes. At best, these schemes waste seniors’ time and don’t provide the promised money or rewards. At worst, some scams rob seniors of their personal information and retirement money.

Quick tips to avoid work at home scams: if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, and if a company or website is unfamiliar, research it before interacting with it. 

2. Senior dating scams

Fifty-eight percent of women over 65 are unmarried, and 11.3 million seniors live alone (U.S. Census). With so many single seniors it’s no wonder that a number of senior dating sites have materialized. While some sites are perfectly legitimate, we’ve noticed three clear dangers: 1) unscrupulous members of legitimate dating sites seeking to take financial advantage of lonely seniors, (2) dating sites that claim to be free for seniors but charge a monthly fee that is only disclosed in the fine print, if at all, and (3) dating sites that steal seniors’ personal information.

Quick tips to avoid dating scams: research unfamiliar dating sites before signing up, do not send strangers money, always meet new people in public places, and run new people by other family members.   

3. Lottery/sweepstakes scams

The promise of instant riches or prizes is tempting for anyone, but are perhaps even more enticing if you’re on a fixed income. Lottery and sweepstakes schemes range from the relatively harmless: Publisher’s Clearing House is still alive and kicking online, apparently sending out copious email spam with nary a prize to be seen; to the more pernicious—those that collect personal information which is then resold on the black market and/or used in identity theft.

Quick tips to avoid lottery and sweepstakes scams: don’t give out personal information regardless of how appealing the prize sounds. 

4. Phishing scams

Phishing is the name given to what criminals do when they trick people into giving up their personal information for nefarious purposes. Phishing is typically done via email, phone or website and solicits social security numbers, bank account information, credit card numbers and other confidential personal information. Ploys include the infamous email from a “Nigerian Prince” who just needs your bank information to deposit millions into your account, and emails and websites that impersonate bank and credit card companies (“spoofing”), among many others. Personal information is then often sold on the black market, used to take out fraudulent lines of credit, and used to make fraudulent purchases.

Quick tips to avoid phishing scams: use great caution when clicking on links in emails, if you have any doubt of the authenticity of an email or phone call, delete it or hang up, and call the institution or person yourself (e.g., your bank or your friend), avoid giving out personal information online or on the phone if it is being solicited.  

5. Bogus online pharmacies

Prescription and over the counter drugs are expensive and seniors are understandably looking online to save money. While there are plenty of legitimate online pharmacies, there are also plenty of bad ones. Often posing as “Canadian pharmacies” these dangerous “rogue” online pharmacies are commonly based in countries where the rule of law is weak (they typically just pretend to be located in Canada). Medications bought from rogue online pharmacies can be expired, sugar pills, the wrong medication, or even contaminated.

Quick tips to avoid rouge online pharmacies: research online pharmacies before using them, and if there is any doubt, ask your doctor or other medical professional for advice.

6. Facebook scams

Remarkably, 30% of seniors are now on Facebook (Pew, 2012), busily staying connected with family, old friends and new friends. Unfortunately, Facebook is not immune to a host of scams and scammers and seniors can be the most susceptible. Phishing scams, viruses, and worse all live on the Facebook platform. For more information, see our previous article on common Facebook scams.

Quick tips to avoid Facebook scams: do not click on links to unfamiliar sites, even if friends or family have posted it, because their account may have been compromised. Research the new site before using it. 

7. High-cost loans

Short on cash, vulnerable to financial emergencies, and continually exposed to the ordinary financial stresses of long-life, seniors are turning to expensive loans. These loans range from the high-interest short-term payday style lenders, to the highly-regulated but still high-cost reverse mortgages. Also, be on the lookout for celebrity endorsements–they are a common tactic to sign up new customers for high-interest loans.

Quick tips to avoid over-priced loans: if you can afford it, speak with an estate planning or elderlaw attorney, otherwise, call your local Agency on Aging for financial advice. 

8. Phony anti-aging products

The search for the fountain of youth is as old as human history. Wild claims of extended life, miracle cures, youthful looks, and youthful vigor all flourish online. But whether it’s anti-aging products or alternative medicine websites, seniors are all-too-often finding only snake oil.

Quick tips to avoid anti-aging scams: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is and always ask your doctor before using an anti-aging or other health related product or service. 

9. Weight-loss scams

There is something Sisyphean about trying to stay fit as we age, and frankly we can all use all the help we can get. Unfortunately, the web is seemingly populated with as many bad ways to lose weight as there are good ones. Weight-loss and diet scams abound online and seniors are right in the scammers’ crosshairs.

Quick tips to avoid weight-loss scams: avoid any promises of easy weight-loss, check reviews of unfamiliar programs, and as always, ask your doctor before embarking on any new diet or weight loss plan or pills, even if it sounds like it’s “natural”.  

10. Fake government sites

We may quibble about whether we can trust the government. But it is unequivocal that we should not trust websites that impersonate the government. Seniors are being targeted by sites that are offering everything from fictitious government grants, to sites that charge for services that are offered for free by the U.S. Government (visa, passports, birth certificates, and more).

Quick tip for avoiding fake government sites: real U.S. government sites should always end with a “.gov” (instead of a .com, .org, etc.), check reviews of the site first before using it to make sure it’s legitimate, and if you’re still in doubt, call the government agency in question and verify their website address. 

Do you know of a scam or scheme targeting seniors? Be sure to report it on SiteJabber, as well as to the FTC and FBI

Share this information with the seniors in your life!

More on senior scams at FBI.gov and NCOA.orgImage sources 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Comments

4 Responses to “Top 10 Scams & Schemes Targeting Seniors Online”
  1. Robert Smith says:

    I ordered some cholestrol medication from a canadian drug store I found on google and my doctor said that it was not working. It ended up costing me more money to try and save by buying from an online pharmacy. I hope the pill was just a sugar pill and not something harmful to me.

  2. Kathy says:

    Good information. But don’t forget the phone call scams that have been going around for years now, where the caller claims they are a technician who has been alerted by Microsoft (or some other legit business) and warns you that your computer is full of dangerous viruses. They will say and do anything to get you to give them access to your computer and will even charge you for the mal-ware or useless software they download. They have fooled many people who get scared into thinking that they have viruses when in reality there is nothing wrong with their computer until they did what these scammers told them to do!

  3. Saleem says:

    My mother got an intimidating voicemail from and “IRS officer”. I called him back at the number he verbally left and there was no answer. On the phone there was no caller ID but the voicemail picked up the Washington DC based number. So I called that number.

    The receiver had an accent and pronounced “San Jose” incorrectly. This “agent” knew my mothers address and name and claimed she had back taxes owed. She needed to pay it immediately or get arrested by the local authorities. The “agent” continued to issue a barrage of threats. I asked him to go ahead and do what he had to do.

    No police showed up and I did not hear from the “agent” again. I called the FBI hotline who referred me to the FCC who referred me to another government agency who said they could do nothing. If you call the “agent” back he has a voicemail which will claim he is an IRS agent.

  4. I really enjoy your blog, I hope your website continues to flourish.

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