By LaDonna Koebel
The Attorney General’s Office of Senior Protection is dedicated to protecting consumers and educating seniors about the financial abuse and devastation often associated with scams and fraud. Because of their financial stability and nest egg savings, seniors make attractive targets for scammers and fraudsters.
Far too many seniors have suffered financial loss due to scams. In 2022, Kentucky seniors reported losing over $19 million in losses from fraud and scams to the Attorney General’s Office. Sadly, these statistics only represent a fraction of actual losses. Americans lost a record $8.8 billion to scams in 2022, up 30% over 2021’s losses, according to data released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Combatting scams can be particularly challenging due to the sophistication and ever-changing tactics used by scammers. Seniors are hit with a barrage of scams via email, phone calls, text messages, and social media. And while the majority of scam reports come from younger adults, older people tend to lose far more money to scams.
Scammers are particularly good at targeting unsuspecting consumers by impersonating everyone from businesses, government employees, utility companies, law enforcement, and even your friends on Facebook and Instagram. Impersonation scams take many different forms but essentially involve a criminal posing as someone you’d trust in order to steal your money. These scams have become so common, that consumers should view any request for payment, gift cards, or investment as suspicious.
The highest losses to scams in 2022 were from investment scams. Kentucky scam reports mirrored that of the national trend which reflect a staggering loss of more than $3.8 billion. Many consumers reported that they were encouraged to invest in a great opportunity to make a lot of money. Some cashed out their retirement savings to invest in cryptocurrency or bitcoin with a “friend,” only to later find out that their friend’s social media account was hacked and they had unknowingly given their life savings to a hacker, rather than placing their money in a legitimate investment opportunity.
Real estate scams, identity theft, romance scams, and lottery scams round out the “Top 5” scams for money lost in Kentucky, with some of the most frequent scams being business impersonations and online purchasing scams. Often the great ads you see on social media are fake businesses that use stolen images from legitimate retail sites to advertise products that the companies never deliver. These businesses simply disappear after a short amount of time online.
While there are many types of scams and fraud, consumers of all ages can protect themselves from common scams by following these tips:
- Be suspicious of every unsolicited call, text message, and email. Don’t trust caller ID, it can be spoofed to appear like it’s from a legitimate business or agency.
- Avoid clicking on links in emails or texts, as these can install malware on your device which can steal passwords and personal information.
- Resist pressure to make an immediate payment to a threatening caller. Scammers use scare tactics to create a sense of urgency. Hang up and call a verified number to confirm what’s going on. This is a common tactic for utility scams, arrest warrant scams, and grandparent scams.
- If anyone instructs you to urgently purchase gift cards, wire money, or send payment through a cash app such as Zelle, PayPal, Venmo, or payment applications, it’s a scam! These services are a handy and reliable way of sending money to friends and loved ones, but scammers know you’ll be unable to get the money back.
- Be skeptical of anyone who calls you asking for verification of your Social Security or Medicare number. The Social Security Administration will not call you and ask for this information. This is a common tactic used for identity theft and health care fraud.
- Regularly monitor your bank and credit card accounts for suspicious activity. Promptly report unauthorized charges to your bank or credit union.
Always stop and pause before acting. Scammers try to trick you into paying them based on fear or by creating a sense of urgency and confidentiality. This is simply an attempt to keep you from recognizing the scam and getting you to act urgently.
Most importantly, if you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, don’t be afraid to report the incident to our office by completing our online scam complaint form at ag.ky.gov/scams or by calling our Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-888-432-9257 (select option 3). It is important to act quickly, as we may be able to help you avoid further financial harm. Your reports help our office track and stop scams.
Attorney General Cameron’s office works diligently to protect Kentuckians from fraud and scams. In 2022, the Office of Senior Protection launched a statewide media campaign, called
“Be a Fraud Fighter” to alert consumers to the dangers of scams. We’ve also distributed over 75,000 Senior Justice Initiative scam brochures to consumers and issue regular consumer alerts to keep Kentuckians informed about the latest scam trends. To sign up for consumer alerts and learn more about how to avoid scams visit ag.ky.gov/consumeralerts.
LaDonna Koebel, J.D., is the Executive Director for the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office of Senior Protection.