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How to Protect Yourself from Scams and Fraudulent Activity

Updated: Jul 2

The rise of advanced technology has increased the amount of cybercriminal activity particularly among the elderly population. This population is a common target among cybercriminals due to their lack of technological expertise and trusting nature. If we can bring awareness to this epidemic and better educate our elders, we can empower them to recognize and prevent these criminal activities from happening so they can stay safe in an increasingly digital world.

Throughout this article, we will outline the various types of scams that specifically target the elderly population, how you can spot them early, and tips on how to prevent them from happening in the future. By taking action, staying informed, and remaining vigilant, we can all create a safer environment to ensure seniors can have peace of mind and age gracefully.

Common Scam Types

According to the Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration, this is the number fraud reported in America.

To learn how to avoid this type of fraud, check out this podcast from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Learn more about email scams here.

To learn how to avoid this type of scam, check out this podcast from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

To learn how to avoid this type of scam, check out this podcast from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

To learn how to avoid this type of scam, check out this podcast from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

How to Recognize a Scam

Scammers can use a variety of online tools to get you to think the scam is in fact legitimate. According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers are able to use artificial intelligence to clone the voice or mannerisms of a loved one to get you to believe the situation is real, they are able to clone legitimate job ads to get you to provide your personal information, they have even gone as far as to clone the Internal Revenue Service to get you to think you owe back taxes and if not paid in time you risk going to jail.

These are all common scammer tactics to steal your personal information or financial information. Given that scammers are using technology to advance their tactics it’s becoming more difficult to identify what’s a scam and what isn’t a scam, so we want to make sure you are aware of these common scam types, so you avoid them in the future.

How to Avoid Scams

Protecting yourself from scams and fraudulent activity should be a number one priority because most if not all scams can lead to identity theft, bankruptcy, an inability to apply for loans, damages to your financial history and personal reputation which can takes years to get back. We listed the most common scam types above but here’s what action you can take when these scams are presented to you.

Received a phone call?

Never consent or confirm anything over the phone if you don’t know the caller. If you receive a call asking you to verify your identity with a simple “yes” response, always ask who is calling before you provide an answer. With advances in technology, scammers are now able to take advantage of you simply by getting a recording of you saying “yes”.

If you are unsure if the caller is a scammer, you can always tell them you are unable to talk right now and will call back at a better time. Then you can take note of the call, look up the caller and the organization they say they are from and give that organization a call back to verify its legitimacy. When it comes to healthcare organizations, they will often communicate important information to you via mail or email instead of phone. It’s a good rule of thumb to deny any calls stating they are from a healthcare provider.

You should also adopt the ‘sleep on it’ concept meaning you tell the caller you would like to take some time to think about the decision and they should call you back the next day. If they call back, it’s a good sign it was a legitimate call.

Got a fishy email?

When you receive an email from an unknown sender never reply to the email nor should you click on any links, images, or attachments in the email. Scammers are now able to hide viruses within images and attachments without you ever knowing.

Sent a text from an unknown source?

Never reply to unknown text messages even to confirm the sender of the text. Often times the text will start out harmless to get you to respond then will escalate to something more severe. Also, phone numbers are often tied to your personal information such as full name and address.

Advanced scammers can easily figure out your full name and address by you simply letting them know the number they are using matches the number of the person they are attempting to scam.

What to Do if You Are Scammed

Sent someone money? Here’s what to do…

If you paid with a credit card, wire transfer, or transferred money from your bank account, contact your bank immediately and let them know the charges were fraudulent and you would like to reverse the transaction. If you sent cash via the U.S. mail, immediately contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877.876.2455 and request they intercept the package. It’s always a good rule of thumb to never send cash in the mail to anyone, whether you know them or not.

Sent someone personal information? Here’s what to do…

If you shared your social security number with someone, immediately go to to see what steps should be taken to prevent identity theft. If your username or password was made public, it’s a good idea to create a new and stronger password as well as change anywhere else you use that password.

There are plenty of free online password managers to help keep your personal information safe and secure. See below for a list of potentially good and free online password managers:

Reporting a Scam

If you suspect someone of social security fraud against you, contact the Office of Inspector General Social Security Administration (OIGSSA) hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or submit a report online here:

When filing your report try to provide as much of the below information as possible to the OIGSSA as it helps them pinpoint the crime committed:

  • Name

  • Address

  • Phone number

  • Date of birth

  • Social security number

  • Description of fraud

  • Location of where the fraud took place

  • When the fraud took place

  • How was the fraud committed

  • Why the fraud was committed (if you know)

  • Anyone else who has knowledge of the fraud

If you feel you have been a victim of fraud unrelated to social security, contact the Federal Trade Commission here:

How to Recover from Scam Trauma

You may not realize, but being a victim of a scam can cause lifelong trauma. Feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, embarrassment, guilt, anger, shame, or vulnerability can set in quickly making it difficult for you to trust anyone or anything. But don’t let those feelings consume your life as there are many resources out there to help you recover and take care of yourself for the future.

The first and most important step to take to begin recovering from a scam is to allow yourself to feel and accept the emotional stress it caused. It’s nearly impossible to resolve a problem if the problem is never acknowledged.

Next, you’ll want to create a system that allows you to frequently monitor your accounts for suspicious activity. Most banks and credit unions offer some form of credit and account monitoring if you have an account with them. We suggest you reach out to them and see what they have to offer. Additionally, there are free apps you can use to monitor all your accounts and spending, Mint, QuickBooks, Rocket Money, and NerdWallet are viable options.

Adding additional layers of protection is a good rule of thumb. Freezing your credit, using two-factor authentication, and putting locks on credit cards make it difficult for scammers to get your information. They will either give up when they see how many steps they must go through, or you will immediately be alerted of a potential threat before the scammer can do any real damage to your accounts.

Lastly, it’s best to establish a support system to help you get through this. Learn from others who might have gone through the same experience or lean on others to help you spot suspicious activity. Similar to how we stated earlier about using the ‘sleep on it’ method, this method gives you the opportunity to think about what’s being asked of you and to lean on your support system for advice on how to proceed.

For additional tips on coping with the trauma of being scammed, you can purchase Cathy Wilson’s book, 'The Emotional Impact of Being Scammed and How to Recover' on the LifePaths’ website or on Amazon. Cathy is a licensed professional counselor, with nearly two decades of experience, at the LifePaths Counseling Center in Littleton, Colorado.

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