December 5, 2019

The holidays are here! This time of year is filled with joy, giving, and fun with family and friends. However, the holiday season is also when scammers are busier than ever. Each year, scammers come up with new ways to steal money and information from their victims.

Contrary to popular belief, older adults don’t fall for scams more often than younger adults. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), adults 60 and over were 20% less likely than younger adults to report losing money to fraud. Older adults are, however, more likely to be targeted by scammers because the scammers believe they have more money in their accounts. This could be why, when older adults do fall victim to fraud, they lose more money on average than other age groups.

With this in mind, it’s especially important to know about the tactics used to target older adults during the holidays.

This holiday season, keep an eye out for these common senior scams:

Phishing emails

Phishing occurs when scammers send emails posing as reputable sources, including banks, insurance companies, and well-known brands. The scammer may ask you to share your personal information or click a link that downloads a virus to your computer.

How to avoid it:

  • Check the “sender” information carefully and look for misspelled words or bad grammar in the message.
  • Don’t click any links or attachments in suspicious emails.
  • Never provide your personal information (passwords, credit card or account numbers, or Social Security number) over email.

Online shopping scams

The internet makes holiday shopping quick and easy, but it also comes with its share of risks. For example, some online retailers sell phony goods. Other online sites exist to trick you into providing your credit card information and never send you the product you ordered.

How to avoid it:

  • Only shop from well-known and trusted online retailers. Check the URL in the address bar to be sure you’re using the correct website.
  • Read customer reviews.
  • Make sure the website is secure. Secure websites begin with “https” not just “http” (the “s” stands for secure”).
  • Watch out for false advertising. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card or gift card when shopping online. Credit cards provide better fraud protection.

Fraudulent gift cards

Gift cards make great, easy presents for the holidays, but unfortunately, more and more scammers are using gift cards to carry out their sneaky schemes. For example, scammers will sometimes tamper with gift cards displayed in grocery stores. Or, they will resell gift cards that have already been redeemed.

How to avoid it: 

  • Buy gift cards directly from the retailer or their website.
  • Before purchasing a gift card, look carefully at the packaging for any tears, wrinkles, or signs of tampering.
  • Register the card, if possible. This makes it easier to protect the balance.
  • If a gift card is lost or stolen, report it to the gift card issuer.

Grandparent scams

This common scam occurs when a scammer calls an older adult pretending to be a grandchild or other relative in trouble who needs money right away. Usually, the scammer will request to be sent funds through a wire transfer. These calls can be very convincing, so be careful. Scammers will even use social media to get details about their intended victim’s relatives or friends.

How to avoid:

  • Hang up and call your grandchild’s number directly.
  • Call another family member to confirm the “grandchild’s” story.
  • Beware of any request to wire money, especially to someone you don’t know.

Fake charities

During the holidays, many of us like to give back. Scammers know this, which is why some will take advantage of the spirit of giving by asking for donations on behalf of phony charities. It’s important to do a little research upfront, so you know that your charitable donations are going to the right places.

How to avoid:

  • Ask for the charity’s name, address, and phone number.
  • Look up the charity’s rating on the Better Business Bureau or CharityNavigator.
  • Don’t let someone rush you into making a donation decision—this is the sign of a scam!
  • Remember that it’s okay to say no, especially if you’re unsure about a charity’s legitimacy.

Delivery scams and package theft

The ease of online shopping has led to an increase in package delivery—and package theft. First, look out for phishing emails posing as delivery companies. These messages might ask you to click on a “tracking link” that downloads a virus to your computer. Secondly, be aware of package theft. Criminals will drive around neighborhoods looking for packages to snatch from porches and doorsteps. Some thieves will even follow delivery and postal trucks to steal packages as soon as they’re delivered.  

How to avoid:

  • Always get tracking numbers for your orders. This way, you’ll know what to expect and when so you’re not caught off guard by phishing emails.
  • Ship packages to your workplace instead of your home. Some delivery services will allow you to ship to a local convenience store and pick up your packages later.
  • Request a signature upon delivery so that packages aren’t left unattended on your doorstep.

Remember, fraud can happen to anyone, at any time of year. With the busy holiday season ahead, we all need to stay alert and aware of potential scams. For more information on common senior scams or to report fraud, please visit the FTC’s consumer website.