We have all heard the horror stories about a senior citizen getting fleeced from a home repairman, financial sales person, telemarketer, or funeral scam. We've heard them all or we think we have and that it could never happen to me. Well, it certainly can happen if we don't stay on the lookout for the slick phone fraudster appearing to be caring and compassionate. Statistics show that seniors are lonely and can easily fall victim to these scammers appearing to be so trusting.
According to the National Council on Aging, financial scams on senior citizens is fast becoming the crime of the 21st Century. Many times crimes against senior citizens go unreported or are difficult to prosecute. As a result, these crimes are considered low risk, but will devastate the victim and leave them in a vulnerable position to recoup their losses. Interestingly, NCOA indicates it’s not just wealthy seniors who are targeted, but low-income older adults are also at risk of financial abuse. What makes this most alarming, it’s not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes. Over 90% of all reported elder abuse cases are committed by an older person’s own family member, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.
The FBI believes people who grew up in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's are generally more trusting and were raised to be polite making it easier for a con artist to exploit them. The FBI Common Fraud Scheme website shares excellent tips for senior citizens during the summer months, but could be utilized all the time.
As a general rule, governing all of your interactions as a consumer, do not allow yourself to be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts, or committing funds. In addition to seniors being more trusting, the FBI believes seniors are often targets of fraud schemes because:
- Seniors appear to have a nest egg, own their home and have excellent credit.
- Older Americans may not report the crime, or may be too ashamed to admit they have been scammed or may not even know they were victims of a fraud.
- Con artists know when senior citizens report a crime, they are not good witnesses and have difficulty remembering the events.
- Seniors are susceptible to products that cure disease or improve their mental and physical conditioning.
The Better Business Bureau warns senior citizens of these specific scams designed to trick the elderly into giving up their money.
Investment Schemes - Scammers target seniors because they know they’re retired and making plans to safeguard finances for their later years. Be wary of pyramid schemes (like Bernie Madoff’s), investment schemes promising quick and plentiful returns, advance-fee schemes, and foreign letter fraud schemes. Remember, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Travel Scams - Travel offers come by mail, phone, fax, and e-mail and offer cheap rates, freebies, and promotions for travel packages or vacation clubs accompanied by “free” restaurant gift certificates, gas cards, or other gifts for attending presentations. These presentations obligate you to sit through high-pressure sales pitches. It is unlikely you will get a refund once you sign a contract.
Telemarketing Fraud - Telemarketing scams usually involve offers of free or low-cost products or devices, bogus health care products (such as supplemental insurance or prescription cards), and inexpensive vacation offers. Those age 60 and older and those that live alone are special targets. Never give personal or financial information over the phone to someone you don’t know, and make sure you are registered with Do Not Call lists. National (FTC) 1-888-382-1222 & Local 1-866-9NOCALL Report soliciting or suspicious phone calls to the agencies. In most cases, you don’t need to know who called you or where they’re located, you only need the phone number to report.
Healthcare Fraud Scams - Scammers will call or e-mail misrepresenting they are Medicare or insurance representatives. Typically, the fraudster claims they will be sending a new card or announcing a new plan and stating personal information is necessary. Sometimes, they’ll falsely tell you an initial payment needs to be made for the new card or plan. Scammers are clever and are constantly attempting to get personal or financial information and scam you out of money.
Funeral and Cemetery Scams - Scammers read obituaries and call a grieving widow or widower claiming the deceased had an outstanding bill with them and then try to extort money from relatives to settle the fake debt. In another tactic, disreputable funeral homes will attempt to capitalize on family members’ unfamiliarity with the cost of funeral services to add unnecessary charges to the bill or attempt to sell high-end products or services.
Door to Door Scams - Especially this time of year, people go door-to-door and offer extraordinarily low prices for home improvement work, often stating the offer is only good at that moment. The BBB often receives complaints each year regarding asphalt paving, roofing, tree stump removal, storm damage, and sales of products including vacuum cleaners and magazine subscriptions. Door-to-door salespeople are often transient, and if you’re unsatisfied with the work or don’t receive the magazines you paid for in advance, there may be no way of finding them to get your money back. Always check with the BBB, do your research, compare prices and know where the company is located should you have problems later.
Grandparent Scam - a person calling posing as a grandchild in a frantic situation in need of funds to be wired immediately.
Utility Scam - caller indicating they represent a utility company and unless money is paid immediately, services will be interrupted and cutoff.
Jury Duty Scam - a caller claiming they are with the court and you didn't show up for jury duty and unless money is wired immediately, the victim will be arrested.
IRS Scam - caller claims that they are with the IRS and if delinquent taxes aren't paid immediately an arrest would be forthcoming.
The National Council on Aging recommends 8 tips to keep you safe from money scams.
- Be aware that you are at risk from strangers and those closet to you. 90% of elder abuse crimes come from family members.
- Don't isolate yourself and stay involved. Isolation is a huge risk for elder abuse. Visit the Elder Care locator and stay involved in the community.
- Always tell solicitors that you never buy anything over the telephone or from anyone who visits unannounced and to send it in writing. Neighborhood kids selling girl scout cookies and school fundraisers are exceptions, but never put credit card information on forms.
- Shred all receipts with credit cared information. Identity theft is big business, so protect yourself and invest in a shredder.
- Sign up for the Do Not Call List and take yourself off of mailing lists to stop telemarketers from contacting you.
- Use direct deposit to prevent benefit checks from being stolen from mailbox.
- Never give Medicare, Social Security, banking, or credit Card information over the telephone unless you initiated the call. Misuse of Medicare dollars is one of the largest scams involving seniors.
- Be skeptical of all unsolicited offers and always do your research. Be an informed consumer and shop around before making a purchase.
If you think you've been a victim of a scam, don't be ashamed or embarrassed. There are plenty of people you can talk to using the Eldercare Locator.
- Call your bank or credit card company
- Cancel credit cards or debit cards
- Reset passwords and pin numbers
Also, Adult Protective Services is the 911 for elder abuse. You may reach them at http://www.napsa-now.org/get-help/help-in-your-area/