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Senior scams to watch for this holiday season

Holly Beth Niemczura

Posted on December 08, 2022

Compliance consultant for senior and vulnerable adults under MassMutual's Financial Crimes and Fraud Prevention unit.
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This article will ...

List some of the more common scams attempted on the elderly during the holiday season.

Discuss steps that can be taken to help loved ones avoid online scammers.

Note the importance of having a direct conversation with your older loved ones about the dangers of online scams.

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year to many, but it can also be when people, especially seniors, are vulnerable to scams.

While most people look forward to the holiday season, the holidays can sometimes be lonely and leave some feeling vulnerable, particularly the older generation. We may not be socially isolating anymore, but the reliance on complex and sometimes confusing technology is still growing. We're living in a technological world and it's easy to get caught up in a mass of emails, texts, and websites that may or may not be legitimate.

Here are some of the common scams that seniors are susceptible to — including ones that we've seen with MassMutual clients — that may be more prevalent during the holiday season:

  • Romance scams. The internet is a valid place to meet people; it's also a place that can be dangerous when others don't have good intentions. It's easy to connect with someone who is telling you things you want to hear, especially at a time when sentimentality tends to run high. However, it's important that seniors are aware that their potential online romantic connection may be someone looking to take advantage of them financially. (Related: How to protect against romance scams)
  • Familial impersonation and grandparent scams. Although these scams can happen throughout the year, the familial impersonation and grandparent scams can be more emotional, and victims may be an easier target during the holiday season. A spoof phone number can tie back to a family member and convince the senior that a family member needs help when it is in fact a scammer. It's wise to be vigilant for both and to check with the actual family member before providing any information.
  • Charity scams. The holiday season is a special time to donate to charities. However, scammers take advantage of less tech-savvy individuals and set up fake charity websites. It's easy for a scammer to generate a website, using a familiar logo and marketing verbiage, to trick people into donating. Being alert for these scams can be the difference between donating to a legitimate charity or a scam. (Related: A new type of scam)
  • Shopping scams. Like charity scams, scammers can set up lookalike websites for stores in hopes of tricking holiday shoppers into thinking they are doing business with a legitimate retailer. It's dangerous not to check if a store or small business is legitimate before giving any personal or financial information. Look for pertinent information and any spelling or grammar errors, which can be an indication of a scam, on the advertisements. Also, make sure any payment you make online is secure.
  • Delivery scams. Because of the increase in online shopping, delivery scams are becoming more prevalent. These are not the typical porch-pirate thefts but more advanced scams. Calls, texts, or emails about deliveries of gifts not purchased — asking for a senior's details in order to deliver — can be an attempt to steal credit card numbers or personal information.

Scam protection steps

Now that you're familiar with some of the common scams out there, here are some ways to protect your loved ones — or yourself — from inadvertently becoming a scammer's best friend.

  • Keep communication lines open. We all have our own things going on and the holidays are a very busy time of year for many people. Connecting only takes a little effort, so make calls or FaceTime those relatives or senior acquaintances that are a distance away. Or, if they are close, drop in to talk about concerns. Perhaps discuss any calls or solicitations you may have recently gotten that are scams, just to make your older relatives and friends aware such dangers exist. Even discuss news articles or social media posts that have been highlighting scams.
  • Website safety. Explain how important it is to pay attention to website details no matter what transaction is occurring. Looking for valid URLs, lock symbols, and complete web addresses — websites ending in .com and not .cm, for example — are some ways to circumvent these scams.
  • Don't send information. The Federal Communications Commission advises to never provide your financial or personal information via email, by text messages, or over the phone. Many financial institutions as well as the IRS emphasize that no one will call or text asking for your login information. As stated above, information should only be sent via secure websites. Make sure your loved ones remember this. (Related: 8 simple steps to secure your digital data)

Have a conversation

Some are quick to blame and cannot understand why others fall victim to scams and claim they never would fall victim to themselves. However, this may not be fair. Think of the season and the unconventional, unsettling circumstances we currently live in.

Text messages from family, friends, and even your pharmacy can become overwhelming and may make seniors lower their guard. Convenience and technology keep us constantly connected in a variety of ways and it changes each day. Unfortunately, sometimes it results in people not always making the most rational decisions and only one bad decision with a scammer can snowball into a dire situation.

Maybe your loved one or senior friend wants someone to connect with because they are lonely. Or they want to buy a grandchild a toy and do not know how to identify safe websites to enter credit card information. That's where you can make a difference. Have a conversation. It may not be easy but don't be accusatory, keep the dialogue open and honest, and understand that it really could happen to any of us, young or old. (Related: Tips for talking about finances with your aging parent)

These are our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and mentors who are searching for a way to connect in this world that is in remote mode and that relies on technology more than ever. Unfortunately, while we are trying to help our seniors connect with others via technology, we are also opening them up to more vulnerabilities.

That's why Living Mutual means helping our seniors understand how to protect themselves from financial scams.

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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.