Scams Against Seniors
Most scams against seniors are conducted through the phone, mail or internet. Realizing many seniors may have money, but are less tech savvy, criminals see opportunity. Women over 60 who live alone are a prime target for scammers.
The FBI’s Common Fraud Schemes webpage provides tips on how you can protect yourself and your family from fraud. Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered “the crime of the 21st century.”
Scams against seniors are especially common because:
- Senior citizens are most likely to have savings, to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.
- Older folks were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Scammers exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up.
- Older Americans are less likely to report a scam. They don’t know who to report it to, and may be ashamed at having been scammed. They don’t want relatives to think they can no longer handle their own financial affairs.
- Financial scams can be difficult to prosecute, so they’re considered a “low-risk” crime for the con artist. With no face-to-face interaction, and no paper trail, these scams are hard to trace.
- Senior citizens are more interested in products promising better health and vitality. With on-going development of new cures and vaccinations, it is easy to convince a hopeful target that a “miracle product” may do what is claimed.
Telemarketing scams against seniors
Scammers use fake telemarketing calls to prey on older people, who tend to make more purchases over the phone. While the lonely senior citizen with nobody to talk to may play a role, it is more likely that older folks are more familiar with shopping over the phone, and might not consider the risk. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations. Once a scam has been successful, your name may be shared with similar schemers looking for easy targets.
Examples of telemarketing fraud include:
- A con artist telling you that he/she found a large sum of money and is willing to split it with you. But first you must make a “good faith” payment by withdrawing funds from your bank account. Or that you have won a lottery/sweepstakes and must make a payment to cover fees and taxes in order to claim your prize.
- The con artist getting you to wire or send money on the pretext that your child or another relative is in the hospital or in financial trouble and needs the money.
- Solicitations for fake charities, which tend to increase after natural disasters.
- Scammers calling or sending e-mails indicating they’re from the local country clerk’s office, claiming you’re in trouble for missing jury duty . Scammers say they have a warrant out for arrest and ask you for an immediate payment on a credit card to stay out of jail. Or you may be asked to pay the “fine” by purchasing re-loadable debit cards or gift cards.
- Scammers reading obituaries and calling to take advantage of the grieving widow or widower, claiming the deceased had an outstanding debt with them.
- Scammers pretending to be from the local sheriff’s office, claiming you have unpaid parking tickets that you need to pay now. The scammers scare you into giving up your credit card information—or have you purchase prepaid debit cards.
Since many older people are not internet-savvy, they become easier targets for the automated internet scams that are everywhere on the web. Pop-up browser windows selling fake anti-virus programs will fool victims into either downloading the program (for a fee) or an actual virus that will open up your computer information to scammers.
To Avoid Internet Scams
- Counterfeit drug scams offering low prices on questionable products. If it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. Beyond paying for a product that will not help your condition, you may be buying something that could harm you.
- Fraudulent anti-aging products. In this youth-oriented society, it is understandable that people seek a way to look younger. However, as with fake drugs, there is a risk of the product doing nothing, or actually causing harm. Botox scams are particularly risky, since a bad batch of botulism can have health consequences far beyond a few wrinkles.
- Email/phishing scams – You may receive email messages that appear to be from a legitimate company or institution, asking you to “update” or “verify” personal information. Or you may receive emails that appear to be from the IRS about a bogus tax refund. The IRS will not contact you by phone, e-mail or social media. The IRS cannot threaten to have you arrested.
- A fake Medicare or insurance representative asking for personal information that is used to bill for services never provided.
In addition to the scams listed above, there are scams involving disreputable funeral homes padding their bills by insisting on unrequired services. There are investment schemes and reverse mortgage scams calculated to part you from your hard-earned money.
The Increase in Scams against Seniors
It’s estimated that one in five Americans over the age of 65 are victims of financial abuse. Financial abuse can be in the form of a scam, or it can also be perpetrated by family or friends who syphon off money from older loved ones.
Despite the number of scams, most seniors don’t see themselves as vulnerable. Only 1 in 10 older Americans say they feel susceptible to a scam. A false sense of safety may lead you to put off having conversations with family and friends around protecting your or a loved one’s money.
Talking about Scams
Having those conversations with your elderly parent or grandparent – or with your children – can provide crucial protection from scams and help in dealing with any fallout should the worst occur. Many fraud cases could be avoided if families kept communicating: people talking to their children and children talking to their parents.
A good start is to acknowledge all the security breaches that have made the news. Then discuss how to help each other out. Sharing pertinent information with trusted family members, such as the location of bank accounts and investments can be critical to safeguarding those resources. If you think you’ve been contacted by a scammer, talk to your family about your concerns.
If you are told the only way you can pay for a prize, fee, fine, or questionable debt is by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, or loading money onto a cash reload card – you are dealing with a scam. Hang up the phone, throw away the letter or delete the e-mail. If you have doubts about the legitimacy of any contact, check for current scams with the Federal Trade Commission scam alert web page or the US government site on common scams. Or call the business or other entity the potential scammer is claiming to represent. Be sure to look up the number yourself rather than using any number given to you by the caller. Knowledge is power. With information and a skeptical attitude, you can protect yourself and loved ones from scams against seniors.