BBB Identifies the Top Three Scams Affecting Senior Citizens

BBB® is observing National Senior Citizens Day by exposing the top three scams targeting seniors.
August 21, 2017

Senior citizens living on a fixed income stand to lose a lot when targeted by scammers. But Better Business Bureau® serving Eastern Oklahoma has some good news. Scammers are not biased; they target all age groups. The 2016 BBB Risk Report discovered that out of the Top 10 Scams, seniors were the most susceptible age group to only one of the scams.

Scammers prey on seniors because they are more likely to have savings and, if retired, a consistent source of income. Retirees are also more likely to be at home allowing scammers to target them via the phone. The primary contact method for each of the top three scams that affect seniors is by phone.

Red corded phone on a white background

1. Family/Friends Emergency
How it works: Scammers impersonate a friend of family member and claim to have some emergency that requires your financial help to resolve. Targets are contacted via phone and email. These imposters often do their homework, researching personal details on social media. You can guard against this scam by:

  • Ask lots of questions: Scammers are bound to reveal themselves if you ask enough identifying questions.
  • Don’t rush: Be slow to hand over money or financial information. Contact the person they claim to be on your own and verify whether the story is true or not.
  • Avoid emails from unknown senders: If you aren't familiar with the email address don't open it.

Find more BBB information on Emergency Scams here.

Hand palm up with stack of 100 dollar bills sitting on it

2. Sweepstakes / Lottery Prizes
How it works: Targets are informed that they have won a prize of some sort but before they can collect their winnings they must pay a fee (taxes or shipping and handling) upfront. Unfortunately once the money has been sent the winnings never materialize. Some scams include receiving a fake check and a request for you to return some of the funds to cover fees. You can guard against this scam by:

  • Free means free: “Pay to Play" contests are illegal, except for those involving skill. However, if something is advertised as free, by law, it must be free.
  • Be suspicious: You should be wary of any prize coming from a sweepstake that claims you were "automatically entered." Another warning sign is if your congratulations notification is mailed bulk rate.
  • Do your research: Always do your research before sharing your financial or personal information with anyone. Check with BBB to see if the contest organization is connected to any scams.

Find more BBB information on Sweepstakes, Lottery and Prize Scams here.

Pink hard shell suitcase in front of wall of windows

3. Travel Vacations
How it works: Scammers will target vacationers by posting listings for vacation rental properties that either don't exist, are not for rent, or are very different than advertised. Many individuals will pay either in full or a deposit before their holiday. Once they arrive at the given address, they realize they have been conned. You can guard against this scam by:

  • Be suspicious of too good to be true prices: Check to see how much similar properties are being rented for before booking. If the property seems extremely underpriced for how nice it is, then you’re probably looking at a scam.
  • Pay with Credit Card: If you must pay before you see the property, pay with credit card. You can dispute the claims and keep your money out of scammer’s hands if you act quickly. You could lose your money if you use a prepaid debit or wire transfer to pay.
  • Read Reviews: Many rental property aggregator websites and apps allow users to leave. Read the reviews closely to ensure that someone who has stayed at the property leaves them. Look for details like when they stayed, what specifically they liked about the rental and their interaction with the property owner.

Find more BBB information on Travel and Vacation Scams here.

The data collected in the 2016 BBB Risk Report shows a decreased susceptibility to scams as you get older. Only 12-percent of those exposed to scams of 65-years of age and older lost money. Compare that to the 37-percent of 18 to 24-year olds who lose money when they come in contact with a scam. However, as mentioned at the outset of this article, senior citizens often have more to lose. The 65 plus age range had a median loss of $390.  The best way to fight back against con-artists is to arm yourself with knowledge. 

Find more information on scams at BBB Scam Tips.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, report it to: