Scams in the U.S.
Each year, the United States looses tens of millions of dollars to phishing and scamming. Between the 2015 Healthcare breach of Anthem and Premera that left just over 100 million people at risk for identity fraud and the annual IRS tax scams that have grossed roughly 26.5 million dollars since 2013.
While scamming and phishing can be tricky to identify for even the most vigilant people, scammers and phishers often target senior citizens in their scams because they make easy marks—especially over the phone and online.
How can seniors takes measures into their own hands and stop scammers? We’ve created a list of five ways to identify, and stop, a scam:
- Any Government-Related Organization Will Never Call You
That’s right. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be the IRS, the Department of Investigation, Social Security, etc. that caller is a scam. As the IRS Commissioner says, “[I]f you are surprised to be hearing from us, then you’re not hearing from us.”
What to Do:
Do not give away any personal information. Hang up the phone immediately. If you are unsure or if the scammer was particularly convincing, you can always call the IRS directly, their phone number is listed on their website.
- Always ask for Documentation
If someone calls claiming that you owe money, it’s as simple as saying, “Okay, send me a bill. You should already have my address on file.” All businesses that bill (hospitals, yard care, utilities, phone bills, etc.) have created a customer for each client. That customer account has your personal information, like phone number, address, and sometimes even a credit card on file. If the business is legitimate, they can send you a bill for documentation purposes.
What to Do:
Ask the person for written documentation. You can request an itemized invoice, a detailed report, or even a copy of the contract for business. If the business is legitimate, these documents are on file and readily available.
- Keep your Personal Information Guarded
Healthcare, Insurance, Utilities, Government Organizations, etc. all have a number that identifies the customer, called policy numbers or account numbers. These numbers are the best way to identify yourself, rather than providing a full social security number or an address. Furthermore, businesses may ask for the last four of your Social Security Number, but they should not ask you for your full Social Security Number. If you already feel uncomfortable in a situation, do not give away your address or full SSN.
What to Do:
If someone asks to “verify your account” with your full SSN, ask for an alternate way to verify, like a birthdate or a policy number. Legitimate businesses will have other avenues to identify a person and their account, like security questions and password resets through an email. Use these as often as possible.
- Do Your Research
It’s as simple as typing the phone number of the caller into Google and pressing “enter.” If you see results at the top of the page that says “Scam,” then you know it’s a scam. Websites, people, phone numbers, even scamming situations are available online.
Scammers and Phishers will have a sense of urgency (ex. “If you don’t pay right now, we’re going to turn off your power.”). However, legitimate businesses will provide you with cancellation notifications. So, if the person on the other end of the phone is a legitimate business, you can call the company back at any time (this gives you the opportunity to look through the website, to see if the phone numbers match, and to Google the scam).
What to Do:
Do not pay over the phone. Google the company, and find their customer service number. If that phone number doesn’t match up, then it is a scam (example: IRS help line is not the 202-XXX-XXXX phone number the scammers use). Do not be intimidated by due dates and empty threats to pay immediately—hang up the phone and consult the internet.
- Never Pay Over the Phone
Phishers and Scammers often use bullying techniques and tactics, like the most recent IRS scam in which the scammer will tell the victim, “You need to pay $5,000 immediately in order to postpone the warrant for your arrest/suspension of your driver’s license.” The sooner you commit to payment, the more successful the scam is.
Legitimate businesses will send you a bill to a physical address or an email, and if there is truly a warrant out for someone’s arrest, that person would have been notified by the police department.
What to Do:
Tell the scammer you’re happy to pay the fee, as soon as they provide proper documentation. That person should already have your address/email address (see number 2 above). You can also tell the scammer that you do not feel comfortable giving out your information over the phone, and to provide you with a website for further review.
Senior Citizens can Fight Back Against Scamming
About one in every ten people in the United States will lose money to an online scam in their lifetime, and senior citizens are prime targets. However, with these five tips, we hope seniors everywhere will be more informed and equipped to stop scammers.