In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed a presidential proclamation establishing the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day after more than a decade of recognition in communities across the nation. “As we seek to strengthen the enduring values of the family, it is appropriate that we honor our grandparents,” President Carter wrote in his Sept. 10, 1979 proclamation. “Grandparents are our continuing tie to the near-past, to the events and beliefs and experiences that so strongly affect our lives and the world around us. Whether they are our own or surrogate grandparents who fill some of the gaps in our mobile society, our senior generation also provides our society a link to our national heritage and traditions
.” As technology has continued to evolve in the past 42 years, con artists have singled out consumers over the age of 65 as particularly vulnerable to their crimes and tactics. According to the 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report, consumers in the U.S. over the age of 65 report a median value of $150 lost to scams, tied with those aged 18-24-years-old, despite having the lowest susceptibility rating (31.9%).
From Jan. 1–July 31, 2021, Texas consumers over 65 have reported over $220,000 lost to scams across the state, with an average of $2,400 lost per report. Senior citizens residing in Texas lose, on average, three times the amount of money per report to scams as those between the ages of 18-24. Additionally, consumers over 65 make up only 11% of the total number of scam reports submitted to BBB Scam Tracker from January–July 2021.
The top three most-reported scams impacting this age group are online purchasing scams, sweepstakes, prize, or lottery scams, and phishing scams.
To raise awareness of scams impacting the senior citizen community in Texas, Better Business Bureau offers the following tips and guidelines to identify and avoid the most common scams impacting Texas residents over the age of 65.
Online Purchasing Scams
The 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report identified online purchasing scams as the #1 most common scam impacting consumers of all ages. In 2020, 38.3% of all scam reports across North America were from victims of online purchasing scams. To protect yourself or a loved one from falling victim to an online purchasing scam, BBB recommends:
• Beware deals that seem “too good to be true.” In general, if the offer, deal, discount or advertisement appears “too good to be true,” it probably is. This is a common tactic for a large variety of scams and is often accompanied by claims of a “limited time” offer or to “act now” to take advantage of the deal “before it is too late!” Do not allow a sense of urgency or aggressive selling tactics and pressure to convince you to purchase an item online before researching the company to verify its legitimacy.
• Research before you buy. According to the 2020 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report, out of the 57% of consumers who did not research the website or business via an independent source before making a purchase, 81% lost money. Be sure to take the time to investigate a business or company thoroughly before making an order. Check online for reviews and customer complaints at BBB.org.
• Use protected payment methods. Avoid paying for transactions by wire transfer, prepaid money card, gift card or other abnormal methods. BBB recommends using a credit card for all online purchases due to the protections it offers to void a transaction if a purchased item or service was never received or rendered.
• Make sure the website is secure. Look for the “https” in the URL of a website, especially before inputting personal information. The “s” stands for secure and includes additional encryption protocols that are not present in a standard “http” URL. The “lock” icon should also appear in the website address.
For more information about online purchasing scams, visit BBB.org/OnlinePurchaseScams.
Sweepstakes, Prize or Lottery Scams Sweepstakes, prize or lottery scams often disguise themselves as a well-known company, offering a wide range of “free” items or deals in exchange for a specific fee or requests the recipient pay the “taxes” on the item before "winners" can receive it. Often, scammers request the fees or taxes be delivered via a wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift card. To avoid falling for sweepstakes, prize or lottery scams, BBB recommends:
• Beware “winning” contests that were not entered. Receiving communication that you have received a prize for a contest or sweepstakes that you do not remember entering is a red flag that it may be a scam. When entering into these contests or giveaways, be sure to read the fine print, which should describe, in detail, how winners can claim prizes if you are selected.
• Do not pay upfront fees to claim a prize. No legitimate sweepstakes company will ever ask the winner to pay a fee or buy something to improve their chances of winning, including taxes, shipping and handling charges or processing fees. If you have to pay to receive your “free” prize, then it is not actually free and is an indication that you may be interacting with a scam.
• Checks can bounce weeks after deposit. Even if a bank representative tells you that a check has cleared, it may be detected as a fraudulent check weeks later. If you have already spent the money, you will be held liable for that amount despite being a victim of a scam. Spend the time to evaluate the check itself, make sure that the company name or address is spelled correctly. Verify it includes the correct routing number for the bank it is supposedly drawing from and that the check number on the top right matches the far-right number on the bottom.
• Be suspicious of irregular communication. Real sweepstakes will not notify you of winning via text or bulk mail and will not send a check through the mail without first confirming with the winner. No legitimate sweepstakes company will require you to respond or act within 24 hours to collect your prize.
In 2020, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center reported that people lost $57 million in phishing schemes in one year. Scammers often use text messages or email to trick victims into divulging personal information such as passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers, leading to identity theft or access to individual accounts. Phishing scams often evolve with technological advancements; BBB has received multiple reports of QR codes directing users to malicious websites or mobile apps. To identify and avoid phishing scams, BBB recommends:
• Verify communication with the business or entity. Before interacting with an email or text message claiming to originate from a company or governmental body, verify it is legitimate by checking online or calling the organization personally. Scammers often disguise themselves as well-known organizations to convince consumers to disclose personal information, especially Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service employees.
• Do not click, download or open anything that comes from an anonymous sender. If you receive communication from an unknown or unsolicited source that includes a link or downloadable file, exercise extreme caution when interacting with the email or text message. Downloading files from unverified sources may install malware on your electronic device, including mobile phones, tablets, or gaming systems.
• Question generic emails. Scammers cast a wide net for potential victims by including little to no specific information in their emails or text messages. Always be wary of unsolicited messages that do not contain personalized information, such as your name, last digits of your account number or other information that indicates it is addressed to you.
• Use multi-factor authentication to protect your accounts. Some accounts offer additional security by requiring two or more credentials to access the personal information contained within. Often, this may be a security code sent via text message or email in addition to your regular password. BBB recommends establishing multi-factor authentication on your most sensitive accounts to make it harder for scammers to log in if they obtain your username and password through a phishing scam.
For more tips and guidelines on how to avoid scammers, visit BBB.org/AvoidScams.
If you have been a victim of a scam, whether or not you lost money, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Information provided may prevent another individual from falling victim.
ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2020, people turned to BBB more than 220 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at BBB.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico.