I have recently received phone calls from people claiming to be from the federal government — usually the Social Security Administration, sometimes the Internal Revenue Service — telling me to call back about legal proceedings that have been or will be launched against me.

Like this one: “The reason you have received this phone call from our department is to inform you that there is a legal enforcement action filed on your Social Security number for fraudulent activity so before this matter goes to the state court house and before you get arrested if you need any information or have any questions kindly call us back at …”

Of course, the call is a fraud. The crooks are hoping I will provide them with valuable personal information and even send them money to forestall my getting “arrested.”

A recent report from the Federal Trade Commission highlights how vulnerable we are all are to con artists.

Older adults were the least likely of any age group to report losing money to fraud in 2018. But their individual median dollars losses were higher than for younger adults. Financial losses were particularly large for those 80 and older. For example, the median individual monetary loss for those 80 and older was $1,700 (up 55% from 2017) compared to $385 for the 30- to 39-year-old age group (up 1%).

The real work combating con artists needs to be done by banks and financial advisers, as well as law enforcement agencies and government regulators. The good news is there has been greater attention paid to scamsters.

Of course, much more needs to be done. In the meantime the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging posted this list of cautions:

• Con artists force you to make decisions fast and may threaten you.

• Con artists use fake caller IDs.

• Con artists sometimes pretend to be the government.

• Con artists try to get you to provide them personal information like your Social Security number.

• Before giving out your credit card number, please ask a friend or family member about it.

• Beware of free travel offers.

If you know somebody that might be vulnerable to a scam, learn more by visiting the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice website, the MIT AgeLab and its section “Resources to Help Protect Older Adults from Financial Fraud and Abuse,” and the AARP Foundation’s ElderWatch webpage.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.