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4 scams targeting retirees right now

2020 has been a year of immense change. Unfortunately, as we all try to pivot and adjust to the new normal, scammers are on hand to try to take advantage of the uncertainty.

If you haven’t seen it already, please take a look at our article on COVID-19-related scams, which takes an in-depth look at COVID-19-specific scams.

In this article, we look at some scams that have been around for a while but which have become more common as a result of COVID-19 (such as rental scams and puppy scams), and some other scams that have been around for a while (such as inheritance scams and dating and romance scams). 

All of these scams are known to target retirees, so it’s great to be aware of them to ensure you never become a victim.

Rental scams 

Rental prices in many parts of Australia have dropped as a result of the pandemic, and it follows that many people, including retirees, are looking to take advantage of the lower prices.

However, scammers have caught on to this trend and are looking to take advantage in their own nefarious ways. 

“Scammers are offering reduced rents due to COVID-19 and using the government restrictions to trick people into transferring money without inspecting the property,” ACCC Deputy Commissioner Delia Rickard said.

In this type of scam, the scammer will post ads on real estate or classified websites, or possibly even social media, advertising a room for rent. After the victim responds, the scammer requests an upfront deposit to secure the property or “phish” for personal information via a fake tenant application form.

The scammer promises to provide keys after the payment or info is received, but of course, there are no keys forthcoming. At this point, the scammer either cuts off contact or, if they feel they can push things further, comes up with no excuses to obtain further payments or information.

“Try to view a property in person before paying any bond or rent money to landlords or real estate agents,” Ms Rickard says.

“In areas of Victoria under COVID-19 Level 4 restrictions this is not possible, but you can help protect yourself by doing an online search to confirm the property exists and, if dealing with an agent, checking that the agent you are dealing with is licensed.”

“Scammers often rely on email communications to avoid identification. Do an independent search for a phone number and speak to the property manager over the phone or arrange a meeting in person.”

Puppy scams

Another outcome of COVID-19 and the resulting increase in time spent at home is that more people are seeking out furry friends. As always, scammers have recognised this trend and are doing what they can to profit at the expense of others.

In a typical puppy scam, the scammer sets up a fake website, ad or online classified / social media post pretending to sell sought-after dog breeds. They may look to take advantage of restrictions (as in Victoria) to take advantage of the fact that you can’t travel to meet the puppy in person; or they may simply say they are in a location that’s many hours from any major city and ask for money to be sent in advance.

“The safest option is to only buy or adopt a pet you can meet in person,” Ms Rickard said.

“Scam websites look quite convincing, so try not to fall for the adorable puppy pictures they post, and remember, if the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

“If you are in doubt, seek advice from a reputable breeders association, vet or local pet shop.”

Inheritance scams

In this type of scam, the scammer offers you the false promise of an inheritance to trick you into parting with your money or sharing your financial details. Scamwatch reports that, as of August 2020, over $600,000 has been lost to these types of scams in Australia. Retirees in particular are often targeted.

The scammer usually poses as a lawyer, banker or other foreign official and claims that the deceased has left no other beneficiaries. Sometimes the scammer will say you are legally entitled to claim the inheritance. Alternatively, they might say that an unrelated wealthy person has died without a will, and that you can inherit their fortune through some legal trickery because you share the same last name.

However, they will usually add that the inheritance is difficult to access due to government regulations, taxes or bank restrictions in the country where the money is held, and that you’ll need to pay money and provide personal details to claim it. This, of course, is where the scam lies.

As always, protect yourself by never sending money or giving credit card, online account details or copies of personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust. Definitely avoid any arrangement with strangers that ask for up-front payments online.

If you’re in doubt, seek advice from an independent professional such as a lawyer or accountant.

Dating and romance scams

One of the most unscrupulous scams going around are those that look to take advantage of people who are lonely. These dating and romance scams are frustratingly common.

Due to the relatively new phenomenon of dating apps and websites, dating and romance scams are easier than ever to pull off. Scammers generally create online profiles designed to lure you in. They may also create fake profiles on social media websites such as Facebook and contact you via those channels. They may use a fictional name, or falsely take on the identities of real, trusted people.

The scammers tend to express strong emotions for you in a short period of time, and will suggest you move the relationship away from the website to a more private area such as phone, email or instant messaging. At this point, they are beyond the jurisdiction of the app or website, which can ban the profiles once it becomes apparent they are fakes.

Once they have gained your trust many things can happen, but as always it usually involves asking (either subtly or directly) for money or credit card details.

As always, never send money to someone you haven’t met in person. Always consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam. If you agree to meet a prospective partner in person, tell family and friends where you are going.

This type of scam can be very complex, so click here for more in-depth information.

And for more information about all types of scams, visit the Australian Government’s Scamwatch website.