Scams can target anyone, and they do, but seniors seem to be targeted more. This article explores various types of scams that target seniors — especially elderly seniors — and gives specific advice to protect against them.
Scams fall into several different categories but all of them involve someone you don’t know, trying to rip you off. It could be a telemarketer, an emailer, a faux contractor, or a con-man (or woman). Be skeptical and learn to say no! Follow these rules to avoid becoming a victim.
Follow these four rules to avoid scams
Never give out personal information to someone you don’t know — unless you initiated the contact.
If you follow this rule religiously, you will avoid many of the scams that target seniors. What is personal information? All this: Your name, address, phone number, email address, bank account number, credit card number, Social Security number, Medicare number, your spouse’s name, your children’s names, your grandchildren’s names, your date of birth, city of birth, name of your high school.
Of course, you say, you would ever give out such information to a stranger. But identity thieves are wily (they are thieves, remember). They won’t likely introduce themselves to you as identity thieves: “Hi, I’m Joe, and I’d like some of your personal information so I can steal some money from your bank account.”
It might happen this way: “Hi. I’m Tricia, and you have a chance to win $500 or a vacation at a Poconos resort. All you have to do is answer this question. ‘What was President Truman’s first name?’ Right, it was ‘Harry’. To award you your prize, I need to get some information…”
Don’t give out personal information to a telemarketer. Don’t buy an extended warranty for your car on the phone. Don’t give money to a charity that called you on the phone. Don’t accept a free offer on the phone.
It might happen by an email request for information: “This is your bank (or broker or the post office, or the IRS). You have not used your account for 30 days, so it will be closed unless you click on this link and verify your account information.” The email will have a logo you are familiar with — the email will look authentic. But it will be a fraud, designed to get you to give out a piece of your personal information. Ignore the email.
Ignore emails from people you don’t know.
Never log in to your bank’s website — or any other website you usually log into — by clicking on a link in an email. It may look like your bank’s website, but it may be a spoof. And as soon as you log in, your login info will be captured by a thief. Always use your browser’s address bar, never an email link, to log in.
Don’t respond to emails that say “I need your help. You can share in someone’s forgotten estate or diamonds or gold or cash.” (Nigerian letter scam)
Never accept an unsolicited offer from a “contractor” who comes to your home and wants to do work for you.
Here’s how this might happen: “Hi. I just completed some work at your neighbor’s and I have some asphalt [or mulch or shrubs or artwork] left over that I can let you have for half price. Can I show you?”
Or he might say, “I noticed that there are some missing (or broken) shingles on your roof. I can inspect it for you free.” Then, “Yes, as I thought, you will need a new roof before we have a hard rain.”
Answer “No!” Never let an unknown contractor make repairs on your house. Get competitive bids for the work and get references.
Never wire money to anyone based on a phone call.
Of course you wouldn’t. Or would you? Here is how the “grandchild in trouble” scam works:
[Phone call] “It’s me, grandma.” The scammer, pretending to be a grandchild (no name is given, though), tells the grandparent that they are in trouble and need money, which they want you to wire, but “please don’t tell mom.” The grandparent sends the money, believing they are helping a grandchild. Don’t fall for this. Never wire money to anyone over the phone. Call the police to report the suspicious call.
The FBI’s scam list
Some popular scams that target seniors:
Healthcare fraud: Seniors are sometimes used to perpetrate Medicare fraud by accepting unnecessary and sometimes fake tests from a rolling lab at a country club or other social setting, or by signing up for free medical equipment that may not be delivered. Never sign blank insurance claim forms.
Reverse mortgage scams: In many of the reported scams, seniors are offered free homes, investment opportunities, and foreclosure or refinance assistance. “Seniors are frequently targeted through local churches and investment seminars, as well as television, radio, billboard, and mailer advertisements.”
Free or low-cost products that are “breakthroughs”, especially anti-aging formulations, low-cost vitamins, and miracle drugs. Also “you have won!”, pre-paid funerals and cemetery plots, low-cost vacations, lotteries and sweepstakes, commemorative coins, loans, fixing your credit, a “seminar that will change your life”, charitable gift annuities, help to pay your bills — all offered by telemarketers on the phone, unsolicited letters, or unsolicited visitors to your door.
The FBI’s advice: Do not respond to unsolicited advertisements.
You can verify the integrity of any solicitor by getting his or her name and address and checking with the Better Business Bureau or with your attorney. If someone tells you that you have won the lottery, check before you send money for “processing fees” and before you give out any personal information.
Here are some resources that can help you avoid becoming a victim of a scam:
- Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org
- Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov Toll-free help line: 877-382-4357
- Debix identify theft protection and restoration service: www.debix.com
- Call your attorney to verify the integrity of any solicitor
- Call the local police to report a suspicious call
Be skeptical, check references, and don’t give out personal information to someone you don’t know. Review the four rules and the FBI’s scam list above. Never let your guard down because there will be another scam artist tomorrow with a scam that targets seniors.