Scams that target seniors are costing us millions

We can be the victim of a scam, and we don’t need to be particularly naive or unassuming either. Scams can be embedded into so many areas of our lives – all with one main aim: to take our money.

Us over 60s are often the target of scams, due to our trusting nature and also our vulnerability. If there’s a chance to get more money to supplement our paltry pension, sometimes we can lunge at the chance without thinking. We’ve all heard of the Nigerian scams, but what is the cost to Australians?

In the US, senior financial abuse costs $36 billion annually, and here, it is thought to be a figure in the hundreds of millions. Neither is encouraging and shows that there is still a huge problem. A study showed that seniors who lost $20 or more to scams were more likely to lose an average of $2,000 a year to other scams, and 1.8 million Australians over 55 are being exposed to scams every year.

Clearly, taking money from over 55s is a big business, and according to a Met Life report, “Losses are significant, with actual dollars lost not the only losses incurred”. People have lost their homes, their dignity and their cherished independence thanks to scams.

The real figure of how many scams take place in Australia every year is unknown because some do not report a scam when they are targeted. It’s often thought that it is better to just remove yourself from the situation, however it is helpful for Government organisations such as ScamWatch to be aware of any scam you come into contact with.

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And it’s not just the usual money scam where you’re asked to give a small amount to be able to access a much larger sum, there are more and more emotional scams going around, in particular ‘love’ scams where seniors are targeted on online dating websites. According to ScamWatch’s website, dating and romance scams “try to lower your defences by appealing to your romantic or compassionate side. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details.

It’s also important to dispel myths about online scams, as believing the below could make you vulnerable to scams:

1. All companies, businesses and organisations are legitimate and okay because they are all vetted and approved by the government or some other authority.

False: Consumer protection agencies can only do so much. While they are constantly on the look-out for dodgy operators, some scams only come to their attention when people report them.

2. Internet websites are all legitimate, or that it is difficult to set up a website.

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False: It is quite easy and cheap to set up a professional-looking website that is run from outside Australia. A scam website could be used to sell a dodgy product, or it could be easily made to resemble a genuine website, like a bank or credit union website. These websites are often only ‘live’ for a few days— but that is enough time to trick people into giving up their credit card details or other personal information. (Source: ScamWatch)

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard told Today Tonight that scammers are developing trusting relationships better than ever and “even within the ACCC, we often look at something and think it is real, but really is a scam”.

Russell Smith of the Australian Institute of Criminology said that he has seen “instances of people who have got disabilities – deaf people – have a great reliance on computers, they have been defrauded and often the scammer will pretend to be a disabled person as well”.

We’re from a different era, we never saw this sort of thing and so it is hard to imagine why any person would do this to a good person. But the fact of the matter is that a scam could target you at any time, no matter who you are.

So how can you protect yourself from scams, particularly those aimed at seniors?

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Never respond to mail from someone you don’t know – even if the letter says you’ve won money, you have a parcel you never ordered or is from a long lost relative.

Don’t give away personal information on calls – there has been a scam going around in recent years where “Microsoft” has called to say you have a problem with your PC and you need to pay for it. Simply hang up.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – you probably didn’t win the lottery without entering, and that chain letter doesn’t need to be forwarded on to save your life, and that iPad is not free.

Have you or someone you know ever been the victim of a scam? What happened? How have you or they be more careful since?