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Officials warn seniors of scams during Older Americans Month

The FTC and CFPB say to be wary of requests to be paid in cryptocurrency

Senior scam concept
Photo (c) solidcolours - Getty Images
Out of all the tricks scammers like to pull -- narratives about a million-dollar prize, a romantic future, or a lucrative business deal -- many are targeted at unsuspecting older Americans. 

Fleecing consumers of any generation has gotten pretty stealthy. Scammers are well-versed in a number of ways to leverage a payoff from wire transfers, gift cards, and cryptocurrency — all methods that transfer funds anonymously and expeditiously.

During Older Americans Month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have joined together to help seniors and their families and friends know what to do if someone requests one of those types of payments. It's also letting victims of scams know what to do and where to report fraud.

The list of don’ts

The agencies have three “don’ts” that they think everyone should know about. They are:

Don’t wire money. Wiring money isn’t something that most people ever do, but it’s almost the same as sending cash to a scammer. Unlike stopping payment on a check, once you wire the money, you usually can’t get it back.

“Don’t wire money even if someone sends you a check, tells you to deposit it, and wire some of the money back to them,” the agencies said. “That’s a fake check scam, and the bank will want you to repay the money you withdrew and sent.”

The FBI also warns that there may be a “money mule scam” wrapped up in a request for a wire transfer. Consumers who get involved in that kind of scheme could be involved in moving stolen money.

Don’t pay with a gift card. Officials are reminding consumers that gift cards should only be used for gifts. If someone asks you to buy a gift card and read off the numbers on the back of the card, you’re essentially giving them control of that money. That means the money you spent to buy the card is gone forever. The agencies also want the public to know that no legitimate business or government agency will ever insist that you pay with a gift card.

Don’t pay with cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is king to some scammers, mainly because there are no legal protections and a victim can’t get their assets back unless the scammer actually gives them back. In fact, it works so well that not too long ago the BBB said it was the second riskiest of all scams.

“If someone requires you to pay for something with Bitcoin, Ether, or some other type of cryptocurrency, they’re probably a scammer,” the FTC and CFPB said.

One thing that officials do recommend is reporting any fraud to the FTC. The agency will do what it can to help consumers who have been scammed, but the most important reason to report the fraud is that the information you share can help protect your community from fraud, scams, and bad business practices.

If you’re contacted by someone telling you to pay or send money using these methods, please tell the FTC about it at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Americans can learn more about recognizing and avoiding scams that affect older adults from Money Smart for Older Adults and Pass it On.

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