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This Is How Scammers Have Been Targeting Seniors During COVID-19

Scamming older adults with hopes of a new pet to keep them company are just one of many ways fraudsters have been targeting lonely seniors this year.

COVID-19 has disrupted our daily lives. We’re more isolated, everything from happy hours to doctors’ appointments has moved onto Zoom, and there’s been a never-ending stream of conflicting reports on best practices for mitigating the virus.

Ideally, we’d all come together and help one another out — but scammers are actually capitalizing on the chaos and hurting people even more. 

Older adults are always prime targets for scammers, and 2020 has been no exception. But you can protect yourself and your loved ones if you know the types of scams that are out there and the red flags. 

Medical Scams

To keep numbers down, many doctors moved to telehealth when possible. While this is useful in protecting ourselves and others, it also leaves the door open for bad actors. What used to be an obvious red flag — an email from a “doctor” asking for your social security number or payment for services— now seems plausible. But it’s actually a phishing scheme, and the con will take that information and use it to steal a person’s identity or money.  

Financial Scams

COVID-19 hasn’t just been a public health crisis; it’s also been a financial one. To help Americans, Congress approved a round of stimulus checks this spring. But the rollout was complicated, with some people not receiving theirs. Scammers took advantage of this and posed as government officials, telling people, particularly seniors, that they had their stimulus check. Of course, there was a catch: They needed to pay or hand over personal information to receive it. The AARP reported that, as of Nov. 12, there had been more than 250,000 complaints about COVID-19 and stimulus payments. More than 60 percent of those were related to fraud or identity theft, and victims had lost an average of $320 each for a total of about $183 million.

Romance scams, where someone preys on a victim by posing as a potential love interest and asking for money or expensive gifts, are also problematic right now. 

Why are people targeting seniors? A few reasons. First, they are more likely to have money saved for retirement, meaning scammers stand to gain more money from them. They also may be lonely, and therefore, more likely to fall for a romance scam.

Animal Scams

A silver lining of COVID-19? Shelters around the country cleared out as people adopted or fostered furry friends to fight back loneliness. But it’s given rise to animal scams. Fraudsters post photos of dogs, charge a fee to adopt them and then continue to ask for money for expenses such as shipping the pet. Then, they often go silent — the animal never existed. 

Because many seniors are isolated and lonely, they’re at risk for this type of scam.

What’s Being Done?

This all sounds awful and scary, and fear of fraud is the last thing you probably need right now. The good news is that there’s been a bipartisan movement to protect older Americans during these times. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) sponsored a bill requiring the FTC to increase protection for seniors against fraud, and the House and Senate both unanimously approved it.

What Can You Do?

The government is trying to help, but you can take a few simple measures to protect yourself.

  • Remember that government agencies like the IRS and Social Security will not ask for personal information such as your bank account number, passwords or your social security number.
  • If you want to adopt an animal, go in-person to a shelter. Some are doing COVID-safe meet-and-greets, and you can verify their protocols over the phone.
  • Pay for medical expenses in person or over the phone. If you receive an email from your provider, verify it is real by calling your doctor,

Report suspicious activity to the FTC.

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