The season of giving is also the season for scheming. During the holidays, online holiday shopping scammers go right for the hearts of the most generous, stealing their money and their personal information. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable—last year, more than $2.9 billion was taken from our parents and grandparents and pocketed by con artists from around the world.
This Christmas, while baking cookies or hitting the sales with your loved one, talk to them about these threats to their financial security and what they can do if they suspect someone is conspiring to take the joy out of their holiday:
The phishing expedition – If you get an email from a familiar company asking you to update your banking account information, alerting you about an issue with an order you don’t recall placing, or requesting that you download an attached invoice, your first instinct is to follow their instructions to fix the issue. But your first step should be to take a closer look at the sender.
Misspellings or poor grammar, an email address that alters the company’s domain (for example @accucare123.org instead of @accucare.com), or a generic salutation (Hello, friend as opposed to Hello, Judy), are all signs a scammer is plotting to upload malware onto your computer or access your account details. If you’re still on the fence, don’t click on or download anything—instead call the company to ask if the email is legit or log in to your account directly by visiting their website through your browser.
The download on downloads – While searching the web or scrolling through Facebook on your smartphone, you see an ad for great holiday deals and special offers at your favorite store—all you have to do is download the app. Just as they have with email, scammers have become experts on mirroring the apps of legitimate stores to sneak into your computer and steal your information. Authentic apps should only be downloaded from the company’s website or through your smartphone’s app store (but only if there are customer reviews that verify the legitimacy of the product).
Fake charities that play on emotions – Scammers have no misgivings about pulling at seniors’ heartstrings during the holidays and will use any sob story necessary to snatch their credit card information over the phone. No matter how much a “charity” pleas or tells you how “urgent” the need is, stop the conversation, hang up the phone, and do some research on the organization through the Better Business Bureau to make sure the request is legitimate. If it’s still a cause you want to support, how you pay needs to be in your hands. Remember—no verified charity will ever pass up a check mailed to their office if you don’t want to share your credit card details!
The grandparent scam – In the middle of the night, you get a call from your grandchild. Their car has broken down on the side of the road, and they need your credit card information to pay the tow truck driver. The last thing any grandma or grandpa wants is their loved one sitting on the side of the road, scared and alone.
Imposters regularly scour social media, obituaries and the web to find family connections and use them to trick older seniors into thinking they’re talking to their relatives—relatives who are facing a crisis and need financial help immediately. If your parent is struggling cognitively or has memory issues, tell them if they do receive a call requesting money, they should follow up with another family member first to be sure the caller is who they say they are.
Swept up in a sweepstakes – You receive a call, check or email congratulating you on winning a prize you “registered for” while holiday shopping. The only stipulations are that you 1) have to pay a processing fee to receive your reward, or 2) have to submit payment now to cover taxes or customs duties. When there’s a trip to Mexico or a new car waiting, why not fork over a few dollars to get your prize sooner than later?
In reality, any company that demands advance payment to cover sweepstakes taxes or fees is violating federal law. You’ll definitely have to pay taxes eventually if that prize is legit, but the check will go directly to the IRS when you file your tax return. It all comes down to the familiar adage – if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
If you or your loved one suspect someone is trying to scam you this holiday season, you’re encouraged to report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 877-FTC-HELP or filing a complaint online at ftc.gov/complaint. Your diligence can help prevent another senior from falling victim to the unscrupulous at Christmas.