Beware of Holiday Scams

Older adults are attractive targets for holiday scams for several reasons: They’re most likely to have a nest egg, to own their home, to have excellent credit, and to be trusting.

Senior citizens are also less likely to report fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they’ve been scammed, says the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For those who do report a scam, memory problems may make it difficult to supply enough detailed information to investigators.

Here are some of the most common holiday scams targeting seniors and what to be on the lookout for:

The grandparent scam

Someone calls and tells you that one of your relatives—usually a child or grandchild—is in trouble and desperately needs money to get out of a jam.

The caller may know enough personal details to sound convincing. The caller may also pretend to be your relative in need by disguising his or her voice by sobbing. But before you agree to send anyone any money, call other members of your family to verify the story. Beware of anyone who insists that you keep the trouble secret.

The IRS scam

A caller claiming to be an Internal Revenue Service agent tells you that you owe unpaid taxes and will be arrested if you don’t pay immediately. He or she warns you that you’ll spend the holidays in jail if you don’t pay up.

But don’t fall for it. The IRS always makes contact first by mail. The agency never calls to demand immediate payment. If you have any doubts, call the IRS at 800-829-1040.

The phony charity scam

During the season of giving, scammers call asking for donations for bogus charities. They may say your donation is tax deductible and will go to a worthy cause. They may even offer incentives like tickets to holiday fundraising events.

Never give credit card or bank information over the phone. Ask for details about the charity, including a phone number. Then look up the charity’s number and call them to verify the claim. Only send money if you are certain the charity is legitimate.

Learn more about the top scams and what you can do to protect yourself.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into in 2018.