Tips to Help Seniors Recognise and Avoid Scams

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According to the latest statistics from Scamwatch, Australians aged 65 and over have experienced the highest financial losses from scams each year since 2020. With the recorded number of reports and losses increasing annually, staying vigilant about scams and how to avoid them is only becoming more crucial.

At our Village Retirement Group communities, we are committed to providing our residents and all senior citizens with the vital scam education and information they need. That’s why we have put together a comprehensive guide to teach seniors how to recognise and avoid scams so they can better protect themselves in the long run.

Recognising Different Types of Scams

Emails, phone calls, and texts are all common ways cybercriminals may attempt to deceive people into giving them money or personal information. While posing as a friend, family member, or legitimate institution like a bank, postal service, or internet service provider, cybercriminals will try and trick people into sharing sensitive information. This information can include:

  • Passwords
  • Bank account numbers
  • Credit card information
  • Passport or driver’s licence information

We’ve compiled a list below of some of the most common scams you may encounter. Recognising these scams can help you to identify any suspicious interactions right away, stopping scammers in their tracks and giving yourself the protection you need.

Government and Law Enforcement Scams

In a government or law enforcement scam, fraudsters impersonate government officials or the police in an attempt to get you to hand over money or personal information. One example of this would be a call from someone claiming to be from the tax office, stating that you owe unpaid taxes and threatening legal action unless you pay immediately.

Postage Scams

This scam grows in popularity the closer we get to Christmas, as scammers know this is when people are most likely to be expecting a parcel delivery. The scammer will attempt to deceive you by sending out text messages that are seemingly from trusted postal couriers such as AusPost, Amazon, and FedEx. Examples of this scam include text messages that make statements such as:

  • Your parcel is out for delivery
  • The courier was unable to complete your delivery
  • Your parcel is being withheld until you pay your delivery fees

The text message will then prompt you to click on a link to supposedly track your parcel, reschedule delivery, or pay outstanding delivery fees. Once clicked, the link will take you to a fake courier site that asks you to provide your personal and/or financial information.

Lottery Prize Scams

Lottery scams involve fraudsters informing victims that they have won a large cash prize, albeit one that they’ve likely never entered for. To claim this “prize”, recipients are often asked to pay a “processing fee” or provide personal information.

For instance, you receive an email stating you’ve won the international lottery despite not purchasing a ticket. The email prompts you to click on a link where you are then asked to provide sensitive information to verify your identity and/or claim your prize.


Robocalls are automated phone calls that transmit pre-recorded messages. Scammers use them to collect personal information, obtain voice recordings, or trick individuals into buying fraudulent products or services.

An example of a robocall scam might be a message instructing you to press a number to claim a prize or update your financial details. After pressing the button, you’ll likely be connected with a scam caller who will try and convince you to give them money or hand over your personal information.

Technical Support Scams

In technical support scams, the perpetrator pretends to be a customer service representative from a reputable tech company. They claim your computer is infected with a virus, urging you to provide remote access or pay for unnecessary support services. For example, you may receive a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, alerting you about a supposed virus on your computer.

They may urge you to download certain software in an attempt to gain remote access to your computer and steal sensitive data. They may also attempt to obtain your information by telling you to go to a specific website and enter your details so they can “fix the issue for you”. On top of this, they might also request payment from you at the end of the call to get you to compensate them for their apparent services.

The Grandparent Scam

The grandparent scam preys on the elderly with fraudsters pretending to be their grandchild in some crisis that requires immediate financial aid. For instance, the faux grandchild may claim they’re in jail and need bail money, urging the grandparent to act immediately without telling the parents. They may even ask you to “guess who’s calling” in an attempt to get you to state your grandchild’s name so they can imitate them more convincingly.

The Lost, Broken, or New Phone Scam

Cybercriminals use this scam to send text or Whatsapp messages, supposedly from your child or grandchild, in an attempt to get you to send them information or money. The scammer, posing as a family member, will address you as mum, dad, grandma, or grandad, before stating they have either lost, broken, or updated their phone.

This is done in an attempt to create an immediate sense of familiarity while also getting rid of any suspicion you may have of the unknown number messaging you. The scammer will eventually ask for personal information or financial assistance. Common requests include asking for money to repair/replace their phone or asking for photos of you to add to their new photo library or social media accounts.

COVID-19 Scams

Ever since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 scams have proliferated. They range from counterfeit health products and phoney charities to fake government payouts and fraudulent vaccination programs. You might receive an email, text, or phone call from a scammer posing as someone else and attempting to acquire your personal or financial information by:

  • Advertising a “miracle” cure for you to buy or invest in
  • Asking for donations to a fictitious COVID-19 charity
  • Alerting you to COVID-19 compensation you’re “entitled” to
  • Offering you a new vaccine in exchange for money

Romance Scams

Romance scammers create fake profiles on social media or dating sites to target unsuspecting people who are looking for love in an attempt to con them out of money. Once trust is established, the scammer will ask you to transfer money to them, often weaving intricate tales about needing financial help to cover certain costs, such as:

  • Healthcare bills for themselves or a sick relative
  • Travel costs to come and visit you
  • Donations to a charity close to their heart
  • Shipping fees so they can send you gifts
  • Money to help them leave their partner so you can finally be together

After the money is received, the scammer will generally either disappear or continue asking you for more financial favours as time goes on.

Tips to Avoid Scams

As technology advances and cybercriminals become more innovative, scams are becoming increasingly difficult to spot. The following tips can help you avoid being caught out by scammers so you can continue to keep your personal and financial information safe.

Do Not Act Right Away

Most successful scams rely on you acting quickly, so it’s important to remember to take your time and avoid any rash decisions. Don’t act right away, hang up if you’re on a call that feels suspicious, and do your research. Even if the communication is legitimate, the person or company trying to contact you will understand and appreciate your caution.

Do Not Engage With Unexpected or Unknown Contacts

One of the best things you can do to avoid scams is simply refuse to answer or engage with any calls, texts, or emails from unexpected or unknown contacts. That way, you can check over any voicemails or messages for an indication of who is supposedly calling. Then, rather than calling the number back directly, you can contact them using the contact information listed online or in your address book.

Remember, it’s important to always start a new phone call rather than to return a missed call directly. This is because it’s possible for scammers to disguise or “spoof” their numbers to make it appear as though it’s someone else calling. Manually dialling the number yourself instead of using a callback feature will ensure the number you contact is legitimate.

Do Not Give Out Your Personal Details or Financial Information

Scammers may ask you to transfer funds, request remote access to your devices, or ask for information such as:

  • Bank card information
  • PINs
  • Two-factor authentication codes
  • Passwords
  • Account numbers
  • Identification documents (e.g. driver’s license or passport information)

This may be done under the guise of helping you pay outstanding fees, guiding you through a transaction, or verifying your identity.

Remember, legitimate companies, government institutions, and banks will never ask for this kind of sensitive information over phone calls, texts, or emails. If anyone asks you to provide this kind of information, it’s best to cease communication and refuse to engage with them any further.

Make Sure Your Computer Has the Latest Antivirus Software Installed

Antivirus software protects your devices from the malicious software (malware) scammers use, keeping your personal and financial information safe. It also scans files sent to your device and determines whether or not they are safe, preventing you from clicking on or downloading any potential viruses.

Antivirus software can also provide you with peace of mind should any scammers contact you stating your computer is compromised and they need remote access to fix this. You’ll know they are lying because you have already taken the steps to properly protect your computer with up-to-date antivirus software.

If you’re not sure how to download antivirus software onto your computer, ask a trusted friend or family member for help. They should be able to walk you through the process and get everything properly set up the next time they visit.

Never Click on Suspicious Links

Never click on any suspicious links that have been sent to you unexpectedly via email, text, or any other form of message. You should also take care not to open any attachments or download any files that have been sent to you from an unknown or unexpected contact.

Ask People You Trust for Advice

If you’re ever unsure whether something is legitimate or a scam, ask someone you know and trust for their opinion, such as your child, grandchild, or support worker. Scams are getting more and more sophisticated each year, so if you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to ask before you act. Sometimes, an outsider’s perspective can provide the clarity you need to stay safe.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Even if you familiarise yourself with the most common scams and ways to avoid them, it’s still possible to be caught off guard and find yourself engaged with a scammer. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re being prompted to disclose personal or financial information, remember to take a step back and ask yourself the following questions. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Is This a Normal Way for This Person/Company to Contact You?

Whether it’s the government, your bank, or a loved one, ask yourself: Does this seem like a normal way for them to get in touch with you? Is this a normal request for them to make?

If you’re unsure, don’t answer and take time to investigate the situation instead. It’s important to remember that reputable companies and institutions will have information on their websites about how they will and will not get in touch with you.

Do You Feel Threatened or Pressured to Act Quickly?

A large part of what makes the majority of scams so successful is the high level of urgency the scammer attaches to the situation. Is the email, text, or phone call threatening or pressuring you to act fast to avoid legal action, exorbitant fines, or any other undesirable consequence? If the answer is yes, don’t engage and seek advice from someone you trust.

Do You Recognise the Number or Email Address Contacting You?

Is the number or email address saved in your contacts? If not, it’s best to cease contact and avoid answering any further correspondence they may send you. If the correspondence seems convincing, you can try contacting the company, institution, or loved one it appears to be from by using their known contact details. You can do this by contacting your loved one through their regular number or by finding secure customer contact information on the company/institution’s official website.

Are They Requesting an Unusual Payment Method?

Are you being asked to make payments in the form of gift cards, cryptocurrency, or physical cash? Scammers often get people to transfer money to them using these unusual payment methods because they aren’t as easy to trace or recover. This means their chances of getting caught and your chances of getting your money back are both significantly reduced.

What to Do if You Think You’ve Been Scammed

While scams can be serious, there are steps you can take to maximise your chances of recovery. If you believe you’ve been scammed, the first thing to remember is to try and stay calm and take action as soon as you realise what’s happened.

Alert Someone You Trust

Remember, there’s no reason to feel embarrassed if you’ve been scammed, and there’s no need for you to try and undo the damage alone. Telling someone you trust that you think you have been scammed can provide you with much-needed help, support, and guidance as you try to recuperate your losses.

Contact IDCARE

Completing IDCARE’s Get Help Form will allow you to receive free, specialised advice and support from one of their expert identity and cyber security case managers. They will be able to assist you in making a comprehensive action plan to limit the damage of the scam.

Contact Your Bank and Any Other Relevant Institutions

Alert your bank, superannuation fund, phone provider, or any other institutions that may have been targeted. This will allow them to take charge of the situation, block any unauthorised transactions, and stop further fraud. The sooner you alert them, the better your chances are of recovering any losses and preventing additional extortion.

Change Any Important Account Information, Passwords, and PINs

Changing the passwords and PINs of any compromised accounts will make sure that any sensitive data the scammer may have will quickly be outdated. This decreases the likelihood of them being able to continually access your accounts or take any more money from you.

Once your passwords and PINs have been changed, you’ll also want to check your account settings. This will help you make sure the scammers have not changed any important account details, such as your listed email addresses, contact information, or two-factor authentication methods.

Report the Incident

Once you have alerted all relevant institutions and secured your accounts, you should then report the incident to try and stop the scam from affecting anyone else. You can take further action by filing a report with Scamwatch, warning those around you about your experience, and submitting an official police report through the ASD’s ACSC.

This can help the appropriate authorities take action against the scammers and can also increase awareness for others who may be targeted in the future.

Watch Out for Follow-Up Scams

Unfortunately, the phrase “lightning never strikes the same place twice” doesn’t apply with scammers. After you’ve been caught up in a scam once, there’s every chance you will be targeted again in follow-up scams. Remain vigilant, do not engage with any questionable calls or messages, and continue blocking all suspicious email addresses and phone numbers that reach out to you.

Get Additional Support if You Need

Falling victim to a scam can be a frightening experience that can have lasting effects for many people. Thankfully, support is available in the aftermath of the incident should you need it.

If the experience is having a negative impact on your mental health, we’d encourage you to talk with your family and friends about how you feel. You can also reach out to a confidential support service like Beyond Blue or Lifeline.

If the scam has caused ongoing problems with your financial situation, you can connect with a financial counsellor to receive free, confidential advice and support. Financial counselling is available through not-for-profit organisations across the country, and you can find your nearest financial counsellor through the Moneysmart government website.

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