COVID-19 is scary enough for older adults, being part of a demographic that is at higher risk of developing more serious complications from the disease. During the upheaval and anxiety of this global pandemic, they also need to be wary of the new wave of criminals who are targeting seniors with coronavirus-themed scams and fraud.
As in other crises, con artists try to capitalize on people’s fears and hopes. For example, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued warnings to companies touting products like essential oils, teas and colloidal silver as treatments or cures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is yet no known drugs or cures for coronavirus.
Seniors are easy victims for scams because they are often isolated, lonely and tend to be trusting. Many seniors also suffer from memory loss or dementia which leaves them even more vulnerable to scams. Seniors are often a big target because they are thought to have substantial amounts of money in their accounts, but even those on a fixed income are targeted. Here’s a short list of the most prevalent scams happening in-person or by phone, text, email and social media, along with some general tips for avoiding them:
Test Scam: Seniors may get a call, email or a door-to-door solicitor Someone may approach senior or senior may get a call with an offer for a COVID-19 test. Do not provide your Medicare number to anyone and hang up on robocallers offering a special virus kit or a free test.
Grocery Scam: A stranger approaches senior inside a store with an offer to shop and deliver groceries. The stranger does not deliver after asking the senior for money and home address. The stranger knows where the senior lives.
Counterfeit Scam: The fraudster will pitch counterfeit versions of items that are in high demand, such as N95 masks, hand sanitizer and disinfecting solutions. Scammers also tout fake supplements, lotions and drinks, as well as faith-based products.
Phishing Scam: The senior may receive spoof emails which are messages with a forged sender address designed to mislead the recipient about the origin of the message. The spoof (phishing) email may impersonate government agencies like the FDA and health organizations like the CDC with offers of “just announced” cures or vaccines.
Another type of phishing scam makes the claim that seniors can receive “virus outbreak” money by providing their social security number and bank information. Anyone who emails, texts or calls saying “you can get your government money now” is a scammer. Do not reply to any of these communications.
Charity Scam: Seniors are being asked to donate money to a fake charity offering to provide medical supplies, products or other items that detect, prevent or cure coronavirus. Closely related is the investment scam asking seniors to invest in companies hawking Covid-19 tests or cures and claiming to be immune from any potential market crash.
Cleaning Scam: A caller or a door-to-door solicitor offers to clean and sanitize seniors’ homes. The senior may have their personal or financial information stolen when asked to make a prepayment over the phone or might be physically harmed or victimized after allowing the solicitor to come inside.
How to Protect Yourself or a Senior You Love
You can protect yourself or a senior loved one from becoming a victim of scammers taking advantage of coronavirus fears by fact-checking information from legitimate sources like What is the Federal Government Doing, the FCC site Covid-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tips, Snopes’ special The Coronavirus Collection, the National Council on Aging’s blog, and the National Consumers League’s Fraud project.
If You Suspect You or a Loved One Have Been the Victim of a Scam
Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk to someone you trust. You are not alone, and people will help you. You are encouraged to reach out to your trusted Amada senior advisor whenever you have a question about scams or feel you might have been victimized by a scammer. Even if you’re not a current client, we are happy to help. Call us at 417-210-7300.
Here are other ways to get help:
- File a report with your local police department and keep a copy of the report on file.
- Contact the IRS’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
- Call the Eldercare Locator for an Adult Protective Service location close to you at 1-800-677-1116.
- File an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Follow these directions from the IRS on what forms to fill out for reporting suspected tax fraud activity.
“How to Identify and Guard Against Coronavirus Scams Targeting Seniors,” by Michelle Flores, Amada Blog Contributor.