By , Marisa Perfetti, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Spring 2021
The coronavirus pandemic is creating new opportunities for scammers to prey on older Americans. In Virginia, three of the top scams are the (1) Social Security Impersonation Scam, (2) Romance Scam, and (3) Grandparent Scam. The scammers are using new variations on these tried and true scams to exploit individuals. It is essential for you to understand the general characteristics and what you can do in order to avoid falling victim.
Social Security Impersonation Scams
This is the top reported scam in Virginia. Normally, people report receiving a call from the Social Security Administration (SSA) claiming that their social security number has been compromised, used in a crime, or their benefits are at risk. The scammers will threaten legal action or jail unless the individual sends money or provides personal information. The scammers may even “spoof” the SSA’s phone number to make the call appear more legitimate.
During coronavirus, the scammers may claim that COVID-19 related office closures are resulting in suspended or terminated benefits. Alternatively, some scammers may claim that COVID-19 is prompting an increase in benefits. The SSA says that both scenarios are scams.
If you receive one of these calls, do not send any money or provide personal information and hang up the phone. If you are unsure, you can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to verify that it is a valid request.
Be careful about online dating! Scammers will initiate contact with their victims through online dating sites, chatrooms, or even social media. They create elaborate stories to gain their victim’s trust and can continue this “relationship” for months. Eventually, the scammers will ask their victims to send money, typically through wire transfers or gift cards, and claim it is for medical bills or travel expenses. 
There has been a rise in this type of scam during coronavirus because more people are meeting online instead of in person. Scammers are using COVID-19 as an excuse on why they cannot meet face-to-face or need immediate payment for coronavirus related medical costs.
If you have recently started talking to someone online and have not met them in person, do not send them money. Talk to a friend or family member about this new person and explain why they are asking you to send money. They may be able to help you find inconsistencies in the person’s stories or determine if it is a scam.
True to the name, this scam tries to capitalize on a grandparent’s love for their grandchild. A scammer will call the grandparent and pretend to be the grandchild who needs money immediately to get out of financial, medical, or legal trouble. Scammers may also pose as a law enforcement office who is detaining your grandchild. Coronavirus provides scammers more ways that a grandchild could be in trouble – they may need money to leave a foreign country or pay hospital costs for a recent COVID-19 stay.
If you receive a call from your panicked grandchild, do not send money until you confirm it is an actual emergency. Scammers are counting on you to act very quickly due to the highly emotional nature of the scam. You should call your grandchild back at their phone number or check in with another family member to verify the situation.
If you believe that you are a victim to one of these scams, you can report it to the local police, Virginia Attorney General (1-800-552-9963), Office of the Inspector General at the Social Security Administration (https://oig.ssa.gov/REPORT), or the Federal Trade Commission (https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/).