To Avoid Scammers, Be Wary of the Phone

While scams keep changing, the targets stay the same. Seniors continue to be the marks of a variety of low-risk crimes that prey on their sense of duty and exploit their fear of cognitive loss.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection logged 1.1 million consumer fraud complaints in 2013; 47% of the victims were age 50 or older, with a median payout of $400 a complaint.

Retirees make ripe targets because they have access to cash via retirement savings and equity in their homes.

Here is what to do to avoid being targeted:

Ditch the landline. The most common way scammers make contact is by phone, which accounts for 40% of all fraud contacts, up from 30% two years ago. One reason seniors are targeted is because they still use landlines—so they’re easy to find through commercially sold phone lists—and they often answer their phones.

Sign up for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network alerts (http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network/) and check its online map. This will help you keep up-to-date on the scams happening where you live, as scammers frequently change the areas they’re targeting.

Call the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Fraud Hotline. If you suspect someone is a victim of fraud, call the hotline (855-303-9470) where fraud investigators can offer advice about how to proceed.

Hang up. Whether it’s a purported relative imploring you to send money right away or a sweepstakes requiring you to pay taxes in advance—two common scams—say you’ll call back. Then research the situation. If the caller is putting pressure on you to pay immediately, it’s a scam.

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