Coronavirus Scams Targeting Older Americans

Scammers are taking advantage of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to con and scam people into giving up their money. During this time, people 65 and older aren’t interacting with as many friends, neighbors, or senior service providers due to efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19, making it harder to prevent scams. Knowing about possible scams is a good first step toward preventing them.  

Here are a few coronavirus-specific scams to look out for:

Computer hacker and cyber crime

COVID-19 Vaccine, Cure, Air Filter, Testing Scams

The Federal Trade Commission warned the public about an increase in the number of scams related to vaccines, test kits, cures, treatments, and air filter systems designed to remove COVID-19 from the air in your home. There is no vaccine for this virus, and there is no cure.  Testing is available through your local and state governments, but these tests are not delivered to your house. If you receive a phone call, email, text message, or letter with claims to sell you any of these items, it’s a scam. 

Fake Charity Scams

A charity scam is when a thief poses as a real charity or makes up the name of a charity that sounds real to get money from you.  Be careful about any charity calling you asking for donations. Do your research by visiting the website of the organization of your choice to make sure your money is going to the right place. 

“Person In Need” Scams

Elderly woman getting bad newsScammers could use the circumstances of the coronavirus to pose as a grandchild, relative, or friend who claims to be ill, stranded in another state or foreign country, or otherwise in trouble, and ask you to send money. They may ask you to send cash by mail or buy gift cards. These scammers beg you to keep it a secret and act fast before you ask questions. Take a deep breath and get the facts. Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person who contacted you.  Hang up and call your grandchild or friend’s phone number to see if the story is real.  

Social Security Benefits Scams

While local Social Security Administration (SSA) offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns, SSA will not suspend or decrease Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments due to the current pandemic. Scammers may mislead people into believing they need to provide personal information or pay by gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash to maintain regular benefit payments during this period.  

Bottom Line

Say NO if anyone contacts you and asks for your specific and private information by phone, in person, by text message, or email. Report scams to The Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, can connect older adults and their families to services, call 1-800-677-1116.

Senior Citizen Scams

While consumers of all ages should be on guard against scams, research shows that seniors are particularly vulnerable to fraud because of changes in the brain, which make it harder for them to detect suspicious body language and other warning signs that someone might be untrustworthy.  Other possible factors that make them more vulnerable are that they are isolated, more likely to be home than younger people, inexperienced in managing their finances, or unable to verify and identify scams due to lack of internet access. The elderly are also more likely to be financially scammed by someone they know and trust—a friend, family member, caregiver or other helper.

Some of the most widely perpetrated frauds targeting U.S. seniors include:

  • Imposters claiming to be from Medicare or the Social Security Administration requesting personal information or demanding money
  • The sale of overpriced, worthless, or dangerous medical devices or prescriptions
  • High-fee, unaffordable, and questionable home equity loans that often result in foreclosure
  • Imposters pretending that a family member is in trouble and needs money immediately
  • Imposters pretending that your deceased loved one owes them money
  • The sale of fake burial plots, or high-pressure sales of overpriced funeral services
  • The sale of ineffective or harmful anti-aging treatments and products
Getting scammed can take a toll. If your loved one is a victim to fraud, he or she may be too embarrassed or afraid to say anything. If you notice that the senior in your life is withdrawing, it could be a sign that something is wrong. Look for any suspicious activity on their on financial statements. Let them know it’s not their fault, try to be patient and supportive, and never make fun of their circumstance.

Other scams to look out for:

  • The Pigeon Drop: A con artist tells you that he/she has found a large sum of money and is willing to split it with you, if you make a “good faith” payment. A second con artist is often involved posing as a lawyer, banker, or some other trustworthy stranger.
  • The Fake Accident Ploy: The con artist convinces you to wire or send money on the pretext that his/her child (or other relative) is in the hospital and they need the money.
  • Charity Scams: Money is solicited for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters.
  • The Grandparent Scam: Scammers will call a senior and when the mark picks up the phone, they will say “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild, the scammer is “in”. The scammer poses as their grandchild and usually asks for money to solve some unexpected financial problem (overdue rent, payment for car repairs, etc.), to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect.

If you are a victim of a fraud, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk to someone you trust. All states have laws to protect older people from abuse. Doing nothing could only make it worse. Call the Adult Protective Services in your area. You can find your nearest service provider by calling the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116, or visiting their website. In addition to reporting suspected elder fraud to the local adult protective services agency and law enforcement, notify any financial institution holding an account that has been fraudulently accessed.



How To Assist Aging Parents

People are living longer than ever before, thanks to modern medicine, technology and healthier lifestyles. As a daughter, son, niece, or nephew, you will likely be responsible for caring for an aging parent or guardian. Eldercare involves helping older people with basic care activities, such as grooming, feeding, meal preparation, providing transportation to medical care appointments, and companionship. To start a plan of care for your parents, you should know what signs to look for and what resources are available. Here are some factors for transportation and meals to consider.

Getting Around
Don’t take for granted what driving means to your parents—it is a symbol of independence. However, as their health and physical abilities deteriorate, driving becomes a major concern. Once they start losing mobility, consider applying for a handicap parking placard, which they can use when driving or as a passenger. You can download the application from the Motor Vehicle Administration’s website.  The application will require a statement and signature from your parent’s primary care physician.

When it’s time to transition to a new form of transportation, parents will have to relinquish their driver’s licenses. They can apply for a state-issued ID or a passport. If your parent is too sick or frail to visit a photo center, work with the Department of Transportation to request an exception. The exception will permit your parent to transfer the existing photo from their driver’s license as long as it is recent.

Then assist your parents with finding suitable transportation options for the times that you can’t help:

Senior Transportation Services – Communities offer senior services through the Department of Aging.  There is a nominal fee for this service, but your parents may qualify to ride at a discounted rate.

Uber – A great option when your parents are not comfortable driving anymore, but can navigate to and from their appointments on their own. This service enables you to coordinate and pay for the pickup service through their app.

Senior couple_Pixabay 3723548_1920
Even if your parents are healthy enough to maintain an independent lifestyle, they may still need to adjust to changes. The right equipment, such as portable shopping carts or lightweight cooking equipment, can make it easier and safer for them to manage their responsibilities.

How can you know how well mom and dad are eating? Look for signs that will tell you if they are struggling at mealtime. Are dishes in the sink or dishwasher? Is food in the fridge? Are containers or food in the trash? Is the food in the pantry being consumed?

To ease meal preparation and prevent stove-related fears—like forgetting to turn off the stove, leaving something unattended, or dozing off—try these suggestions:

Use smaller appliances – Microwaves and toasters are great for preparing frozen meals and single portions, with the added benefit of having a timer. They are also great for people with mobility issues.

Get appropriate utensils and cookware – Having the right tools to complete a task can make all the difference in the world.  Make sure they have equipment that meets their needs, such as knives with sturdy handles, light weight cookware, microwave-safe cookware, etc.