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 technology has evolved in the past 43 years, con artists have singled out consumers over 65 as particularly vulnerable to their crimes and tactics. According to the 2021 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report, U.S. consumers over 65 reported the highest median value lost to scams compared to other age groups at $200 per report.
From Jan. 1–Aug. 31, 2022, Texas consumers over 65 reported over $95,000 lost to scammers and con artists. The top three most-reported scams impacting this age group are online purchase, lottery 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 affecting Texas senior citizens.
Online Purchasing Scams
The 2021 BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report identified online purchases as the No. 1 riskiest scam impacting consumers of all ages. While both susceptibility (2020: 78.8% | 20201: 74.9%) and exposure (2020: 38.3% | 2021: 37.4%) to these scams decreased slightly from 2020 levels, median loss increased (2020: $96 | 2021: $101). 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.” 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 to pressure you to purchase an item online before researching the company to verify its legitimacy.
• Research before you buy. In 2021, 74% of consumers who avoided losing money to scammers felt something wasn’t right about the situation and proceeded to investigate further. Be sure to take the time to research 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 ability to void a transaction or be reimbursed 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 fee or product purchase. Scammers often request that 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 of “winning” contests that were not entered. Receiving communication that you have received a prize for a contest or sweepstakes you do not remember entering is a red flag that it may be a scam. When entering these contests or giveaways, be sure to read the fine print, which should describe, in detail, how winners can claim prizes if 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, it is not actually free and indicates that you may be interacting with a scam
. • Checks can bounce weeks after deposit. Even if a bank provides funds from a deposited check in an account, it may be detected as a fraudulent check much later. If you have already spent the money, you will be liable for that amount despite being a scam victim. 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.
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 unauthorized account access. 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 scam victim, whether or not you lost money, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Information provided may prevent another person from falling victim.
ABOUT BBB: The Better Business Bureau has empowered people to find businesses, brands and charities they can trust for over 110 years. In 2021, people turned to BBB more than 200 million times for BBB Business Profiles on 6.3 million businesses and Charity Reports on 25,000 charities, free at BBB.org. Local, independent BBBs can be found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico, including BBB serving the Heart of Texas, which was founded in 1950 and serves 105 counties across Texas.