Money & Career
Scammers Find New Ways to Attack the Senior Population
9/1/2020 1:00:00 PM


"Your Social Security account has been frozen.” "Once we receive your payment, we will drop all charges against you.” "If you don’t respond immediately to this call you will be arrested.” Government impersonator scams followed by sweepstakes/lottery/prize fraud are two of the most common consumer fraud operations targeting the 60+ age group today.

It starts with a "government” phone call by scammers impersonating any one of many government agencies. Some claim to be Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax officials or representatives from the Social Security Administration (SSA); others claim to be law enforcement officers and threaten legal consequences. All of them use fear and intimidation to trick victims into turning over personal information or money, often in the form of gift cards.

Scammers pay close attention to current events to modify their schemes, such as new efforts to exploit the COVID pandemic. 

Scammers have impersonated the IRS, claiming to expedite benefits under the CARES Act for a fee payable by money wire or buying gift cards, scratching off the security code, and reading the numbers over the phone to the "agent.” 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns of scam calls displaying the CDC’s phone number in the caller ID and the caller is requesting donations for COVID research. Emails and text messages sent, purportedly from the CDC, contain links to malicious programs that are downloaded when clicked.

How can you spot and avoid someone impersonating a government agency? 

  • The IRS generally first contacts people by mail—not by phone—about unpaid taxes. They will never request personal or financial information by email, text, or any type of social media.
  • Gift card payments. The IRS and other government agencies will not insist on payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card, bitcoin, or by sending cash.
  • Social Security numbers are never "suspended.” Nor will the SSA threaten to arrest you because of an identity theft problem.

Sweepstakes, lottery, and prize scams are among the most serious and pervasive frauds operating today. Adults aged 60 and older remain overwhelmingly the largest group victimized by these scams. Schemes involve telling people they have won a lottery or sweepstakes. Victims send money, purportedly for taxes or other fees that must be paid before receiving a prize. Unfortunately, the winners never receive the promised prize.

Why are Seniors targets of fraud? 

It is believed fraudsters hope to find victims diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease because they are an easy target. Also, seniors may simply have more money and are likely to have been at the same address and phone number for a longer time and are easier to locate.

How can you detect sweepstakes/lottery fraud? 

True lotteries or sweepstakes will not ask for money before awarding your prize. 

Call the lottery or sweepstakes company directly to see if you won.

Check to see if you won a lottery by calling the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries at 440-361-7962 or your local state lottery agency. 

Protect yourself by following these guidelines: 

Never provide your bank account or other personal information to anyone who calls you.

Remember: Caller ID cannot be trusted to confirm the caller. Look up the phone number for the organization or agency and call them to see if they are trying to contact you—and why.

Talk to a trusted family member or your bank before you pay a fee for a prize or if you’ve been threatened by a government agency.


Liz Rentrop Trahan is the operations manager for the Better Business Bureau Serving Southwest Louisiana. To learn more tips for avoiding scams, visit If you’ve been the victim of a scam, please report it on the Your report can help others to stay alert and avoid similar scams.

Posted by: Liz Rentrop Trahan | Submit comment | Tell a friend


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