Combat Robocalls and Scams Targeting Seniors

How can you combat the relentless tide of robocalls and scams targeting seniors? Just follow these tips and tricks to stay safe.

The other night, I got a strange phone call. The number had my same area code, and a lot of other digits that were similar to my phone number.

“Hello,” said the voice on the other end. “This is Kate, I’m calling about a significant problem with your health insurance.”

Something didn’t seem right.

“Sorry,” I said, “This seems like a robocall.” I wasn’t sure why I was talking to a robot. Maybe I was too polite.

There was a pause on the other end of the line. Then Kate finally answered. “…No,” she said in a slightly monotone voice. “Do you want to solve the significant problem?”

At this point, I hung up. I couldn’t believe I’d almost been fooled. I should have known better. But robocalls are designed to scare you into answering – into interacting in any way. These scams can be especially dangerous for seniors, who usually haven’t had as much experience dealing with bots.

Robocalls are typically scams targeting seniors. That’s because seniors usually have landlines (which are more susceptible to robocalls), they answer unknown numbers more often (not having grown up with caller ID) and they have less experience with the world of internet scams.

With just a little bit of background knowledge, you can be savvier about how to avoid robocalls and other scams targeting seniors.

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Why Robocalls?

The internet has made scammers and con artists a lot sneakier than they used to be. It’s also made it a lot easier to run thousands of automatically-dialed robocalls at once. Don’t have your number in the phone book? It doesn’t matter – that’s not what these phone farms are relying on. They can scrape phone numbers from almost anywhere, across the internet and beyond.

Think you’re getting more robocalls than you used to? That’s because you are. According to the Federal Communications Commission, U.S. consumers received nearly 4 billion robocalls per month in 2020.

Scammers want to lure you into revealing private information. They do this by scaring you into going along with their schemes. Robocalls prey on common anxieties and desires among Americans, like health insurance, COVID-19, student loans, Social Security, tax errors, interest rate scams and get-rich-quick schemes. Robocalls are one of the main ways that telemarketing scammers prey on their victims. They are depending on you being naïve and unaware of their tricks.

scams targeting seniors

How Do I Avoid Scams Targeting Seniors?

Caller ID can be helpful when you’re trying to avoid phone scams targeting seniors. Be wary of unknown numbers. Not every unfamiliar number is dangerous, but there are some red flags you should be looking out for. Exercise caution when the number is unfamiliar to you or is simply marked “unknown.”

Many phone scams rely on “spoofing,” which means that the number you see on your Caller ID might not be the actual number that is calling you. Spoofed numbers will usually look very similar to your own phone number – down to minute differences like one or two different digits. Spoofed numbers are trying to trick you by throwing you off with a number that is familiar to you. They’re hoping you’ll answer – at least out of curiosity, if nothing else.

Not all robocalls are bad, however. Some robocalls could be your pharmacy notifying you of a new prescription, or an automatic system notifying you of an upcoming appointment at the dentist. If you have any doctors, pharmacies or other services that use automated calls, save their numbers in your phone so that you know they’re safe to answer.

It’s not the end of the world if you accidentally answer a robocall – but it does mean you’ll most likely get more of them. Whenever you answer a spam call, you are filed as an “active phone number,” which means that the scammers know there’s someone who will pick up at the other end of the line. Answering robocalls only begets more robocalls.

What if I Answer?

Answering a call doesn’t automatically mean you’ve fallen victim to the scam. When you pick up the phone, just be vigilant.

Phone bots don’t sound the same as they used to. Most of them sound almost like real people. Sometimes they’re prerecorded tracks from actors, making it even more difficult to tell.

The best way to tell if someone is really a robot is to be familiar with what modern phone bots sound like. Phone bots are often incapable of answering questions that their programmer hasn’t anticipated. That’s why, when I said “This seems like a robocall,” Robot Kate said “No.” I wasn’t technically asking a question, and “No” didn’t technically answer. Kate was almost there, but she didn’t quite make sense.

Phone bots will often take a couple more seconds than the average person to reply to what you’re saying. This is because it has to understand what you have said, then choose from a script what the best answer would be. They usually can’t keep up with the pace of a normal conversation.

Do not give out any personal information to a stranger who has called you unexpectedly over the phone. You don’t know what they’re planning on doing with it. This includes your name, birthdate, passwords and other sensitive information.

Avoid saying the word “Yes.” Scammers have been known to record your “yes” response and use it as proof that you agreed to something that you didn’t, like a credit card charge. Do not press any buttons that the bot might ask you to press (like to speak to a human being, for example). It’s a trick.

If you feel that a call is suspicious in any way, go with your gut. The best thing you can do to combat scams targeting seniors is to hang up.

Keep a close eye on your personal information with identity theft monitoring and protection from ProtectMyID.® The Essential plan is free for AAA members. Enroll now.

Learn more about common scams and how to protect yourself. You can report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission, robocalls and unwanted telemarketing to the Do Not Call Registry and Caller ID spoofing to the Federal Communications Commission.  

Have you ever gotten a suspicious robocall? What did you do? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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72 Thoughts on “Combat Robocalls and Scams Targeting Seniors

  1. Recommend watching various videos on you tube be these two:
    Kitboga: he role plays characters including elderly and calls scammers. He will go through the scam so you see what happens after watching a few. It is entertaining and his goal is to waste their time so they are not calling others. It is serious also because people can learn what happens if one goes through this. Big hint: do not ever obtain prepaid cards or gift cards number and reveal over phone or otherwise!!! These cannot be retracted and scammers are reselling these for nefarious reasons. The scammers are calling outbound numbers, they do NOT know your personal info unless you provide it (don’t). Thus they cannot find you or send police (they are crooks they will not contact police they may impersonate them.) So if they ask for Google play, iTunes, etc or prepaid card, or even your card you almost 100% know it is scam. Stop right there and contact authorities as to next steps. If they require you to stay on phone while you drive to or are at store; drive to police and hand them the phone. BIG HINT: if it seems atypical situation. begun by call to you? Tell them you will call back. Hang up. Look up REAL number from your account, the Amazon application, bank, SS, etc and call this valid number and ask if they are aware of situation. If it is alleged family or friend needing help. Hang up and call the contacts for the involved individual. Try not to take calls. Many smart people fall for these so it is not stupid to do so. However people need to be proactive to help avoid these. I have learned this from watching these videos on YouTube and twitch.

  2. I don’t pick up on unfamiliar numbers, but a couple of them left messages; one from fake Amazon saying a package was misdirected. Second, a call purporting to be from a credit card that I use, saying my card had been used in a questionable purchase. I called them back, and asked the young man to tell me the last four numbers of my card used. Of course he couldn’t – but he gave me four letters instead, that spelled a bad word, and hung up on me. The fake Amazon scare has come through on E mail and looks very authentic, but I didn’t fall for it. The bottom line is, if you do answer by mistake, do not give anyone any information; if they are genuine, they will have all they need.

  3. There are also scam jobs out there. DXC and Pinnacle took me through a whole fake interview before each asked me “how I would like to be paid” and for my “bank information”. Both are real companies but someone was spoofing them.

  4. NO NAME = NOT ANSWERING! If someone or something leaves me a message and I deem they are ‘important’, I will add their name to their phone number for future calls. If someone calls you and it’s a real call or very important, they will leave you a voice message if you don’t answer. Never answer a call that says ‘Restricted’ or ‘Blocked’, and especially not from a state where you have no relatives. Any message that does not first identify the caller – or ask for you by name – and then threatens legal action, or something to do with Social Security, the IRS, or a credit card is usually just a scam. Ignore them.

  5. Look up Scam Baiting on YouTube. These individuals call scammers and expose tactics. One comment: NEVER log into your bank while remotely connected to anyone via computer (they have control over your computer: Team viewer, SupRemo etc.)
    Two recommended scambaiter youtubers I recommend: Jim Browning who has videos inside call centers. Kitboga who calls up call centers with various voices, a virtual computer, fake phone numbers, fake BANK! (Do not try this at home!) In family friendly manner he intends to waste their time so they cannot call others; and most find it very entertaining. Behind the humor, you will see methods used, hear scripts, see HOW they fake deposit “refund” into your account, recognize common ones. Frankly do what we would all like to do had we the knowhow! You can see how they prey on elderly especially. Highly recommend and AAA should interview Kitboga, BTW.

    Jim Browning is out of the UK but his intent is more to get information about scammers to inform authorities (and viewers) how the call centers function.

    PS tele health needs to learn to state name of company and caller name before saying, “Is [name] there? In these times more doctor offices are calling. They show often unknown. I first say “who is calling and who are they with”? They at first may get a little miffed. However, I explain after why and that is why they need to identify themselves and their business when outbound calling to clients.

  6. My home has been receiving for over a 2 week period calls from 9pm – onwards. We had to unplug our phone at night in order to get some sleep as these calls were coming in back to back all night long. No one said anything on the other end. They wouldn’t leave messages on the voice mail as well. I’ve had in my possession for nearly a year the “CPR Call Blocker V5000” This device blocks up to 1500 calls. It blocks International Callers/Withheld/Private Callers/Unavailable/Unknown Callers/Area Codes. Best device ever. Every time a calls come in that is unnoticeable you press the “Block Now” button. Once they calls are blocked they can not come through your line. So sorry it took these unbearable calls to start before we hooked it up. Works like a charm – Dianne T.

    1. I got the same model of the CPR device several years ago. The CPR 10000 is now available. I’ve already blocked close to 600, so far. The calls don’t stop since ALL the numbers are spoofed, but they can’t use the same number twice. Good device, but only blocks what you answer.

  7. I NEVER answer unless a friends name comes up. Everyone can leave a voicemail, which I can read a minute later and call back if necessary.

  8. It seems a wee bit irresponsible to say “Do not press any buttons that the bot might ask you to press…It’s a trick” without explaining HOW one is being tricked. What happens if one DOES press a button? What are the consequences? Please do not include warnings without explanations.

    1. Any response at all, other than hanging up will get you “enrolled” in further activity (more calls, connection with more detailed roboscams, etc.) However, as long as you are sure to give NO PERSONAL INFORMATION to the scam call, you are relatively safe. For example, if you answer a ROBOCALL and press a button, you will be flagged as a participant who will respond and thus you will receive more ROBOCALLS, but you have not put your personal information at risk. Best to not answer, if you can discern that it is most likely a scam call, or hang up after you’ve picked up with no words exchanged. Remember what you learned in KIndergarten… don’t talk to strangers! Good luck!

  9. I don’t usually answer a call from a number I do not know. However today waiting for a return call from North Well Health there was a call from North Shore LIJ which is affiliated with North Well. The female voice wanted to talk to me about my credit card, and the fact that they tried to contact me numerous times.????? What the heck is going on?? I almost feel like they are listening in on my phone conversations. Other calls are from same exchange as my cell number. Technology is great, and these people are very talented, WHY don’t they get a real job? A friend of mine answered this question. Because they make more money this way and they don’t have to pay taxes on it. How SAD. Mean while we suffer. Especially when waiting for an important medical call and your phone does not recognize the number. Could be life threatening.

    1. OMG the same thing happen to me regarding the caller ID, However when I heard the recorded voice saying they tried to contact me about my credit card I hung up. Interesting thing was I was waiting for a call from Northwell Health. That was the only reason I answered the call At all as they are affiliated

  10. Robocalls are so annoying. I agree with most of you. I do not answer any call that the number is not familiar to me. I say that if the call is important, a message will follow. My landline phone has a “block call” button to stop that call again and a talking caller ID, so I don”t have to rush to see the name. Most of those calls now are coming to my cell phone even with filters and apps to stop them. Something peculiar happened twice to me: my phone rang with my name and phone number on the caller ID. I took a picture of the screen because my daughter didn’t think it was possible.
    I wonder if that is the next scam in the making.

  11. I was called from the “grandchild in trouble ” scam. I knew immediately it was not my grandson because he spoke in a southern accent, we are from MA, and called me “Grandmaw”. I am known as Grammy, or “the cool Grammy” If the caller doesn’t sound right to you they will say they have a cold. Another time I called a supposed help line for my computer problem. The person said my computer had been hacked and used for kiddie porn. He wanted a lot of money to fix it. It seems the scammer has caused the problem to get one to call. I said “no, I will go to the Apple store”. He hung up, I went to apple, was told it was a scam as I suspected , they fixed it,no more problem. The website looked legitimate, a professional woman I know did pay the money and the “problem” was fixed, she needed her computer immediately so she did it, which tells me that they do fix the problem they caused after they get your money. I don’t understand why people fall fourths scams, just because we are old doesn’t mean we are stupid, naive and too trusting some people always were and age didn’t change it.
    Thank you for warning us, these warnings should be widely distributed, every day, the only way to stop them is by educating the public.

  12. We never answer our phone and let it roll to the answering machine. If we recognize who it is we’ll pick up. We don’t have caller ID because by the time I find my cheaters to see the number it will have rolled to the answering machine anyway.

  13. I got a call from “Apple” on my cell phone. This scam works since Apple adds their customer service number in the contacts list on their phones. Even if you block calls that aren’t in your contacts, this gets through. Most iPhone owners aren’t aware that its in their list of names. Apple never calls – EVER.

  14. the simplest thing to do is juts ignore these calls or do not answer..you will get thme even if on the governments “do not call” registry,so there isn’t much you can do..i get several a day on my landline and on my cell, and they all are from area codes I don’t recognize, and they all say unavailable or the like..a doctors office,a friend,a business you associate with, will all flag the callers name or id..

  15. Consumer Reports recommends a number where you can add your own phone number to a list. Once set up a robot call rings once on your phone and is diverted to well deserved oblivion by this free service. If it is not a robot call it rings through to your system. I let them fall into my voice mail and 99% the rest don’t leave messages at that point. It works. Check out Consumer Reports for the details on this service.

      1. I have Spectrum and nomorerobo is free. I just signed up, and I have almost no more robo. If I do it rings once.

        1. I have Spectrum and I get 4 or 5 spoofed caller ID and robo calls A DAY. NoMoRoBo isn’t as good as they make it out to be.

  16. If the number is not recognized, then I let the answering machine get it. That way it gives me time to think about the message and whether or not I want to respond to it.

  17. I NEVER answer any call that is not from someone in my call list. They can leave a message if they want. I sometimes don’t even answer when I do know who’s calling. If they want to talk to me about something important they will certainly leave a message. A few people have asked me if I scan my calls and I say YES- I DO. There is no shame in being careful or busy.

    1. Using voice mail is the best way to screen your calls. My voicemail says if you’re trying to sell me something I’m not buying it otherwise leave me a message and I’ll get back to you soon as I can. Any legitimate person would leave a message and I’d be able to tell whether I knew them or wanted to know them. Most calls just hang up as soon as my voicemail says I’m not buying anything. I get more Robo calls then I get real calls but every once in a while a plumber or an electrician calls me back from their cell phone and at least I catch it in my voicemail.I got a call from what was supposed to be my health plan but she needed me to confirm my identity in order to give me some important Plan information. Caller ID said it was my health plan but I don’t know if it was or it wasn’t. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk as I had all the information I needed and she refused to tell me even theoretically what it was about.

    2. Received a call saying that the utilities, gas & electric co. We’re giving a rebate because of Covid . To receive your check press 1. Needless to say I hung up. Too good to be true!

      1. A FEW DAYS AGO, I RECEIVED A COMPUTERIZED VOICE MESSAGE ON MY CELLPHONE TELLING ME THAT MY POWER IS GOING TO BE DISCONECTED BECAUSE MY BILL HASN’T BEEN PAID. I HAVE THE MONEY DIRECTLY TAKEN OUT OF MY CHECKING ACCOUNT.

        I THEN CALLED MY POWER COMPANY DIRECTLY(USING THE PHONE # ON MY BILL).

        I THOUGHT THAT IS WAS A SCAM PHONE CALL AND THE REPRESENTATIVE AT THE POWER COMPANY CONFIRMED THAT IS WAS A SCAM PHONE CALL.

        SO IF YOU GET SUCH A PHONE CALL, CONTACT YOUR UTILITY COMPANY ONLY AT THE PHONE NUMBER ON YOUR BILL.

        REMEMBER, PHONE NUMBERS CAN BE SPOOFED(FAKED) ON CALLER ID.

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