Vacation and Lottery Scams Against the Elderly

Seniors are frequently the intended targets of financial scams. It’s an outrage that happens far too often. Scam artists go so far as to review obituaries, real estate sales, and social media posts to look for seniors to target. In particular, there has been a recent rise in online “free vacation” and “winning lottery” scams.

Here are some examples to show you what seniors need to be watchful against.

Common Issues

Consider This Scenario: Margaret is a recent widow in her early 70s. Margaret really wants to take her children and grandchildren on a family beach vacation this summer. Margaret just received an internet advertisement for beach condo rentals, and the price is too good to be true – it’s almost free! According to the advertisement, the condo is located on a popular beach, and the rental units are booking up really fast. Margaret just needs to pay a small security deposit and pre-pay some minor taxes within a short time limit to book her rental unit. The ad says if she doesn’t act right away, the rental units might sell out and she will lose her chance.

Should Margaret Pay the Deposit for this Vacation?

  1. NO. Or at least not without obtaining more information. This situation sounds a lot like a popular scam where the scammers defraud the elderly by exploiting an alleged “free vacation” to obtain both money and financial information. The vacation sounds like a fantastic deal, but often the advertised property is not available for rent, or in the worst cases, the property might not even exist. The scammers will often demand quick payments through wire transfer, cash, or debit card transactions, which usually cannot be undone. They threaten that if the payments aren’t made right away, the opportunity will be lost. Then, when it’s time for the vacation, the property either doesn’t exist, or if it is a real rental unit, a “bait and switch” takes place and the unit that is provided doesn’t match the advertisement and it is not located where advertised.

Here’s Another Situation: John is in his 80s, but he uses the internet to connect with his grandchildren and other relatives. John enjoys the thrill of gambling, and he frequently plays scratch tickets or takes bus trips to nearby casinos for a fun afternoon. John received an email message saying that he won a sweepstakes. The funny thing is, John doesn’t remember ever entering an online lottery. The instructions say that John just needs to provide them with his social security number and bank account information so that they can wire his winnings directly to him.

Should John Provide His Confidential Information Online?

  1. NEVER. No one should ever provide their confidential financial information online. This scenario is representative of one of the more common elderly scams. There is no winning lottery sweepstakes. The entire goal of this internet scam is to obtain John’s financial information for illegal uses, such as direct theft from John’s bank account or to misuse John’s social security number to make false benefit claims.

Protecting the Elderly

So, what can you do to protect your parents or elderly relatives from these scams?

  1. Talk with them about the possibility of being scammed. Remind seniors that there is never a good reason to provide their social security numbers or bank information over the phone or over the internet, and particularly not for a free trip or sweepstakes.
  2. Beware of deals that sound too good to be true. Be very skeptical of any situation where you need to make an immediate payment. Most legitimate opportunities provide you with plenty of time to research and make your decision to buy. Don’t pay to play a game or sweepstakes or to claim a free vacation. You should not have to provide your own money to get a “free” prize. If someone is asking for your bank information or social security number so you can get your “free” prize, it is a clear sign of trouble.
  3. Seniors should avoid answering emails and online advertisements from unfamiliar sources. Oftentimes these are scams of one sort or another and they are fishing for financial information. Warn your elderly relatives to only surf reputable websites. Make sure that they have spam blockers and anti-virus protections set on their computers or cell phones.
  4. Government agencies, like the IRS or the Social Security Administration, never contact you about late bills through online ads and phone messages. And they do not ask you for your personal information over the telephone. If you owe a debt to the government or there is otherwise some problem with your benefits, you will receive an official Certified Letter through the U.S. mail, and you will have plenty of notice to timely respond.
  5. Investigate any claims of free vacations or winning lotteries to make sure they are legitimate offers. Check with other sources to confirm the information they provide. See what other consumers have said about this specific vacation offer or sweepstakes. For vacation rentals, read reviews from other seniors. Look for details in the reviews like when they stayed, what specifically they liked about the vacation property, or their dealings with the property owner.
  6. Before making any large purchases, you should investigate the company’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or your state’s Department of Consumer Protection. Do your homework before you hand over your money to anyone. There is never a need to make a hasty impulsive decision.
  7. If you do make an online purchase, use a credit card from a major bank. Most have fraud protection, and the credit card company likely allows its customers more time to cancel and walk away from the purchase, or to dispute the claim to keep the money away from the scammer.

Getting Help

My personal experience has taught me that our elderly relatives can be abused and mistreated. Sometimes seniors do not want to report that they have been scammed out of embarrassment and fear of losing control over their own finances. It is very important to talk openly about these scams with seniors you love and respect. It could save them from financial ruin.

If you have specific questions, please contact me directly. I am here to help!

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