Con artists will often target older adults with various schemes and frauds to milk them for money. These can include everything from preying on their vulnerability to posing as various “helpful” services. Let’s take a look at financial scams targeting the elderly and ways to prevent the elderly from being scammed.
Common Senior Scams
- Health Insurance Scams: Scammers will pose as Medicare representatives or provide fake health services to access a senior’s personal information. They will then use that information to bill health-insurance companies and pocket the money.
- Phone Scams: As one of the most popular scams against the elderly, con artists will pose as charities — especially after a natural disaster — or telemarketing companies to solicit money.
- Internet/Email Scams: Seniors are usually targets for email-phishing schemes where messages appear to be from legitimate companies, the IRS, online-banking services, and many others. The messages will usually ask individuals to update their credit card information, which scammers will then steal.
- Funeral/Cemetery Scams: Scammers will often read obituaries to learn information about deceased individuals and then attend funerals to claim the deceased has an outstanding debt. In another scam, funeral directors will try to sell unnecessary services to capitalize on those unfamiliar with funeral costs. Usually, loved ones are in a vulnerable state during this time and are more likely to pay fraudulent debts and costs.
- Software Scams: These elderly scams usually request remote access to one’s computer or claim to be antivirus software. If the individual grants access, the intruding software will steal personal information or infect the computer with malware.
- Grandparent Scams: A scammer will call an older person and ask, “Hi, do you know who this is?” The older person will usually guess the name of their grandchild and the fraudster will then pose as that person for the duration of the phone call. They will then ask for money to be wired over to them because they are “in trouble” and say not to tell anyone else in the family due to “fear of embarrassment.”
- Fake Anti-Aging Products: Scammers will sell what they claim to be anti-aging products only for the products to not actually work and/or may be harmful to the skin.
- Homeowner/Reverse Mortgage Scams: Homeowners are often some of the most popular seniors being scammed. Scammers will usually either offer to identify a property’s assessed value for a fee or pose as home-repair companies
- Sweepstakes/Lottery Scams: Scammers will call seniors informing them they have won a contest but they have to pay a small fee to unlock the reward. These con artists will also send a real check to the senior, which will turn out to be bogus once the individual tries to deposit it in the bank.
- Investment Scams: From pyramid schemes to the Nigerian prince scam, fraudsters will often target seniors planning to save up for retirement.
- Counterfeit Prescription Drug Scams: Con artists will often sell fake prescription drugs at lower prices than the ones found in pharmacies to target seniors looking for a bargain.
Tactics Used in Scams Against Seniors
- Being overly kind or sympathetic
- Emotionally arousing the individual (researchers at Stanford found that seniors are more likely to spend money if they’re emotionally aroused)
- Claiming to work with a credible company
- Instilling fear or giving a sense of urgency (i.e. “The money needs to be deposited to get me out of jail tonight, Grandma. I’m scared I will be attacked in my cell.”)
- Gaining trust to make the individual more inclined to return the favor
Avoiding Scams for Seniors
- Never send money or give out personal information to unknown people.
- Sign up for the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry through www.donotcall.gov or at 888-382-1222.
- When someone offers to work on your home, never pay someone who wants a large sum of money upfront. Always ask for references before making an agreement.
- Never make an impulse purchase to a door-to-door salesperson and never rely on verbal promises for delivered goods.
- Ask how and when payments will take place when paying for a service.
- Be wary of offers requiring you to make a quick decision.
- Research unfamiliar businesses through the Better Business Bureau or through other watchdog groups.
- Get all terms of services in writing.
- Get competitive bids on services and know that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
- Set up bank safeguards, such as credit or debit card spending limits.
- Block mail solicitations