wooden cubes with the words fact and fake

Helping Your Parents Spot Fake News and Avoid Senior Scams

As an adult child of a senior, you’re probably what’s known as a “digital native,” meaning you’re comfortable with using technology and know your way around the internet. Your parent or senior loved one, on the other hand, is a “digital immigrant,” meaning they weren’t brought up with the internet and are more susceptible to online senior scams and fake news. Online scammers target the elderly through senior scams, taking advantage of the fact that they may be lonely, willing to listen, and are more trusting than younger individuals. It’s a massive problem throughout the country. Seniors lose roughly $2.9 billion every year from online financial exploitation, with 10% of Americans over 65 being victimized. And 44% of Americans over 60 admit to falling for fake news. Helping your parent or loved one understand what is fake news and teaching scam alerts for seniors is more important now than ever.

Daughter helps senior mother learn on an ipad

Identifying Senior Scams

Financial fraud is the most common type of online scams targeted at seniors. And it’s on the rise. The fact is, avoiding scams for seniors becomes increasingly difficult as the aging population rises and technology adapts at a rapid pace. According to research by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation, those over the age of 65 are more likely to have lost money due to a financial scam than someone in their 40s. According to the National Council on Aging, the most common scams targeting seniors include:

Medicare and Health Insurance Claims

Scammers contact seniors under the guise of Medicare representatives to acquire their personal information. Oftentimes, scammers try to offer health services to seniors to gain their personal information, bill Medicare with that information, and then keep that money for themselves.

Internet Fraud

IRS Imposter Scam. Scammers aggressively call and email seniors claiming to be IRS employees. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS that must be paid immediately through a wire transfer or stored value card like a gift card. Seniors targeted by this scam are often threatened with jail or suspension of their driver’s license. If your parent or loved one believes they are the victim of an IRS impersonator, they should immediately call the IRS to confirm they’re  being scammed.

Fake Social Security calls. Much like IRS impersonators, scammers impersonate Social Security administrators to steal victims’ Social Security numbers and bank information. Victims are often told their Social Security or bank accounts will be seized or frozen if they fail to comply. In these cases, your parent or loved one must know that the Social Security Administration Office has a very specific process for contacting seniors and confirming their information. If they suspect they’re being scammed, they should call this office immediately.

Counterfeit Prescription Drugs

Online shopping for specialized prescription medications has gained immense popularity over the last 10 years. While this is generally valuable, it leaves seniors much more vulnerable to fake medication scams. These scammers set up websites claiming to sell specialized medication at discount prices, but usually send counterfeit drugs or nothing at all. In the worst cases, scammers send drugs that can cause additional health problems. Your parent or loved one should only purchase medication online from sources approved by the FDA.

Funeral Scams

Funeral senior scams target people in grief after the death of a spouse or loved one, when they’re at their most vulnerable. Scammers contact funeral homes and read obituaries to find their targets. They’ll then pose as employees of a private organization or government institution online, claiming the deceased owes money. In reality, if a deceased loved one owes any amount of money, the executor  of their estate will usually receive a formal notice in the mail.

Sweepstakes & Lottery Scams

In these common schemes, telemarketing and email scammers based in Jamaica and other countries contact seniors informing them they’ve won a sweepstakes or foreign lottery. They’re then told they must pay a “winner’s fee” for shipping, insurance, customs or taxes to receive their prizes. Victims often pay thousands of dollars, and are commonly retargeted, being told they need to pay additional fees to receive prizes.

Romance Scams

Romance scams are most common on social media and dating sites in which scammers create fake profiles to extort vulnerable seniors. Scammers build online relationships, eventually convincing victims to send them money or goods. Anyone your parent doesn’t know or meets online who asks for money should be considered as someone trying to scam them.

Although online senior scams are becoming more sophisticated, your senior parent or loved one can still take measures to protect themselves from becoming a victim:

  • Be wary of deals on prescription drugs, vacations and other high-dollar items online. Perform more research on the company providing the deal.
  • If someone tries to sell something or acquire personal information, ask for more information about whom they represent.
  • Consult family members and caregivers about potential purchases before going through with them. Never give away information on an impulse unless you’re wholly positive it’s to a trusted source.
  • Avoid answering or opening emails and ads from unfamiliar sources.
  • Know that the government won’t  notify you of a late bill or owed payment over an ad on a website – only through USPS mail.
  • Contact your doctor before committing to any health procedure or treatment that you aren’t using your insurance for.

How to report internet scams: recognizing fake news

Laptop with hand on the keyboard and the words "Fake News:

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about fake news, but exactly what is fake news? It’s broadly defined as news stories that are fabricated with no verifiable facts, sources or quotes. Unfortunately, if your parent or loved one is on any kind of social media such as Facebook, they’ve likely been exposed to fake news. It’s easy to be duped. Fake news is designed to spread misinformation by targeting people’s political, religious or social beliefs. Almost always, the goal is to cause public derision by getting people to share fake news articles online. One of the most popular fake news examples currently running is centered around the coronavirus. Stories about consuming bleach, 5G causing the virus and, absurdly, mind control via vaccination have caused many to panic. According to NPR, people – and especially seniors – must take it upon themselves to recognize and ignore fake news because, “social media platforms have no financial obligation to tell the truth – their business models depend on user engagement.” 

These valuable tips will help your parent or loved one identify and avoid fake news:

  • Exercise skepticism. Don’t take anything read or found online at face value, especially when the topic is emotionally charged, as with politics.
  • Investigate the source. Use fact-checking websites such as FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, and PunditFact.com for unbiased, true reporting.
  • Look for key signs on social media posts. Avoid anything that says “copy/pasted” in the post, as well as any post with spelling errors and improper grammar. Trusted news sources have entire departments dedicated to proofing grammar and spelling.
  • Use reverse image searches to track down the sources of images online. This is an invaluable tool in checking sources and checking facts. This tutorial will help your senior parent or loved one easily perform reverse image searches.

Shot of a senior man and his son using a laptop together at home

Too many people are talking advantage of people at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. At The Buckingham, we take the privacy of our residents seriously. Our team members are always available to answer any questions your parent or loved one might have about their online presence – especially now, when social distancing has caused people to connect online more than ever. And regardless of online scams, you can rest assured that your loved one’s financial future here is secured by their Life Care contract. Learn more by contacting us through our website or calling us anytime at 713-979-3090.