Common Scams That Target The Elderly

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Scammers target people of all ages and backgrounds, however, some scams are more likely to target older people.

Technology can be challenging but to older Australians. It can be confusing and often they take the easy option in responding, which could open the door to scammers. According to ABC News, $2 billion was lost in scams last year across all sectors and ages. There are many different types of scams and The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission has the following information on their Scamwatch site.

Why older Australians are at risk

Often older Australians have more money and accumulated wealth than younger people, making them an attractive target for a scammer. Scammers will also scour dating sites and social media for older Australians who have recently divorced or lost a long-term partner. They are trying to take advantage of their inexperience with these sites and their often vulnerable emotional state. Older Australians may also be seen by scammers as generally less internet and computer savvy or familiar with new technology. Scammers often prey on older Australians who are lonely and are housebound.

Common scams targeting older Australians

Dating & romance
Scammers take advantage of people looking for romantic partners, often via dating websites, apps, or social media by pretending to be prospective companions. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts, or personal details.

Investment scams
Investment scams involve promises of big payouts, quick money, or guaranteed returns. Always be suspicious of any investment opportunities that promise a high return with little or no risk. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is – and is highly likely to be a scam.

Unexpected prize & lottery scams
Unexpected prize and lottery scams work by asking you to pay some sort of fee in order to claim your
prize or winnings from a competition or lottery you never entered.

Inheritance scams
These scams offer you the false promise of an inheritance to trick you into parting with your money or sharing your bank or credit card details.

Rebate scams
Rebate scams try to convince you that you are entitled to a rebate or reimbursement from the government, a bank, or trusted organisation.

Door-to-door and home maintenance scams

Older Australians may also be more susceptible to door-to-door and home maintenance scams. While many legitimate businesses sell things door-to-door, scammers also use this approach. These types of scams generally involve promoting goods and services that are of poor quality, or not delivered at all. Scammers may try and sell you gardening or roofing services. They then bill you for additional work that you did not agree to. Sometimes they may pretend to conduct a survey so they can get your personal details, or to disguise their sales pitch until they have been talking to you for a while. Some of the warning signs you may be dealing with a scammer include:

  • they visit late at night, or visit you again after you have said ‘no’
  • they don’t show you any identification or give you any contact information, written quotes or receipts.
  • they might demand that you decide to accept their offer on the spot
  • you may be asked for a deposit or full payment and can only pay by cash or credit card
  • they fail to tell you about your legal rights, including rights to a cooling-off period.

Tips and hints to stop the scammers

  • Don’t be pressured into making a decision. Scammers often try to create a sense of urgency through short deadlines, fake emergencies, or threats of legal action.
  • Be suspicious of requests for money – even if they sound or look official. Government departments will never contact you asking for money upfront in order to claim a rebate.
  • Scammers will often ask you to use an unusual payment method, including preloaded debit cards, gift cards, iTunes cards or virtual currency such as Bitcoin.
  • Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
  • Don’t respond to phone calls or emails offering financial advice or opportunities – just hang up or delete the email.
  • Always do your own research before you invest money and check the company or scheme is licensed on ASIC’s MoneySmart website.
  • Be wary of people you meet on social media or online dating sites who after just a few contacts profess strong feelings for you and try to move you away from the site and communicate via chat or email.
  • Be suspicious of unexpected emails or letters advising you how to claim an inheritance or competition prize. Never give out your personal details and seek advice from an independent professional.
  • Be aware of and understand your consumer rights.

Another scam that is popular at the moment is the ‘Hi Mum” scam. Scamwatch is urging the public to be wary of phone messages from a family member or friend claiming they need help, following a significant rise in “Hi Mum” scams in recent months. More than 1,150 Australians fell victim to the so-called “Hi Mum” scam in the first seven months of this year, with total reported losses of $2.6 million. The vast majority of these scams were reported in June and July 2022. Known as “Hi Mum” or “family impersonation” scams, victims are contacted – most often through WhatsApp – by a scammer posing as a family member or friend.

The scammer will claim they have lost or damaged their phone and are making contact from a new number. Then, once they have developed a rapport with their target, the scammer will ask for personal information such as photos for their social media profile or money to help urgently pay a bill, contractor or replace the phone. These requests continue the ruse of a lost or broken phone with the justification that the funds are needed because they can’t access their online banking temporarily.

Some messages will simply say “it’s me”. In other cases the scammers appear to have contact information and use the name of the person they are impersonating.

“We have seen an explosion in the number of ‘Hi Mum’ scams in the past couple of months, and so we are warning Australians to be very wary of messages from unknown numbers claiming to be from their children, parents, relatives or friends.”

ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard

Scammers will stop at nothing to get your personal details or money and this particular scam is designed to pull your heartstrings. It’s important to stop and think if you get a message, especially on WhatsApp, because chances are it’s not your family member or friend – it’s a scammer.

The ACCC is urging people who receive suspicious messages from a number they don’t recognise, to independently verify the contact. Being online is a great way for our aged loved ones to be engaged and included. However, it is also the perfect way for a scammer to get their details.

Tips to keep your aged loved ones safe online:

  • Talk to your aged loved ones regularly, explain what a scammer is and how easy it is for them to target people not just older Australians.
  • Ask them to check with you first if they are unsure.
  • If it seems too good to be true it usually is.
  • Know what their online activity is – who are they talking to, what sites are they accessing.

Some things you can talk to your aged loved ones about are:

  • Ask them to Know who they are dealing with. If they don’t know them don’t engage with them.
  • Do not open suspicious texts, pop-up windows or click on links or attachments in emails – delete them: If unsure, verify the identity of the contact through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Don’t use the contact details provided in the message sent.
  • Don’t respond to phone calls about their computer asking for remote access – tell them to hang up – even if they mention a well-known company such as Telstra. Scammers will often ask people to turn on their computer to fix a problem or install a free upgrade, which is actually a virus which will give them your passwords and personal details.
  • Keep their personal details secure. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam.
  • Keep their mobile devices and computers secure. Always use password protection, don’t share access with others (including remotely), update security software and back up content. Protect your WiFi network with a password and avoid using public computers or WiFi hotspots to access online banking or provide personal information.

Make sure you know your aged loved ones passwords so they can come to you if they forget it.

  • Choose passwords carefully. Choose passwords that would be difficult for others to guess and update them regularly. A strong password should include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t use the same password for every account/profile, and don’t share your passwords with anyone.
  • Review their privacy and security settings on social media. If they use social networking sites, such as Facebook, be careful who they connect with.
  • Beware of any requests for their details or money. Remind your aged loved one to never send money or give credit card details, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone.

Have you been scammed?

We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible.

Knowledge is power and when we share the knowledge it takes the power away from the scammers and gives it back to us!

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