Scam Alerts

Wednesday September 21, 2016


Scams Targeting Senior Citizens


Topic of the Month: 
Guarding Seniors Against Scams

In today's world everyone can be targets to scams. This is especially true for seniors.

Provide them with the details of how to identify scams and how protect themselves with these helpful tips.

Did you know?
Scams Targeting Seniors:
  • Are considered the crime of the century
  • Occur in person, on the telephone and over the Internet
  • Every year hundreds of thousands of seniors are victims of financial fraud and theft
  • Are largely unreported due to fear of loss of independence, shame and/or lack of awareness of the scam.
We've all heard the sad stories: A senior citizen was fleeced out of his home by an unscrupulous person. A home repair worker turns out to be a thief who takes all the jewelry. A call announcing you've won a prize turns out to be a ploy to get you to empty your bank account. Some scammers call seniors posing as a representative from Medicare, their bank, the IRS or another business entity then request credit card details and other financial information.

As fast as law enforcement officials crack down on one case of fraud against older Americans, another pops up. And one of the roughly 10,000 people a day who turn 65 falls for another old scheme with a new twist. Unfortunately, financial scams targeting seniors are so prevalent they've become the crime of the century. Seniors are thought to have significant amounts of money sitting in their accounts or under the mattress.

Scams targeting older Americans are perpetrated in person, on the telephone and, increasingly, on the Internet. Frauds involving identify theft, Medicare, health insurance, prescription drugs, reverse mortgages, sweepstakes, home repairs, romance and investments abound.

The vast majority of cases of elder exploitation involve family members, aides and other trusted people. But strangers, too, prey on a population they see as more vulnerable and trusting. Every year hundreds of thousands of seniors are victims of financial fraud and theft. Seniors are not familiar with such matters therefore have difficulty identifying the red flags of fraud.

Many scams against older people go unreported because the victims are embarrassed and afraid they will lose independence if their children find out they've been deceived. Fear of looking stupid also keeps them from sharing doubts with friends and family. Seniors who are socially isolated are especially vulnerable to these scams. Seniors sometimes don't want to raise concerns to their family members. They must be convinced to realize that there is really no dumb question.

Experts advise Seniors to never conduct business with someone who calls you out of the blue. They should be supplied with a practiced "no" script, such as "I don't buy products over the phone" or "I don't talk to solicitors." If they think the offer is legitimate, ask the person to put it in writing and mail it to them. Pressure to act immediately is a sign of a scam. Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.

Here are 11 common scams and frauds that victimize seniors:

Distraction scams. Someone knocks at your door and wants to talk about the fence in your backyard. While you're out back, an accomplice takes advantage and robs the house. 

Home repair scams. Seniors must be aware of people who knock on their door and offer home repair services. Some are casing the home to break and enter later. Others will overcharge for a supposed service that either isn't performed or is done poorly. Remember that legitimate contractors rarely solicit door to door, and seniors don't want to hire anyone to work on their house until they have checked licenses and references. 

Computer tech scams. A caller pretends to be a representative from a tech company. They may seek remote access to your computer for "tech support," ask for credit card numbers or direct them to a website to enter personal details. This is always a scam. They may also receive similar solicitations via email. 

IRS scams. Scammers will call a taxpayer saying money is due and demanding immediate payment via prepaid debit card, threatening arrest, deportation or loss of their driver's license. If they have caller ID, the number may even show up as IRS. We must convince seniors that the IRS does not call people, they send letters. 

Callers threatening arrest if you don't pay. A variation of the IRS scam has the caller saying he is from the sheriff's office, clerk of courts or other agency, threatening arrest if the target doesn't pay for an infraction such as missing jury duty. The caller demands payment immediately, via wire transfer or re-loadable card, which is a telltale sign of a scam.

Lottery and sweepstakes scams. Someone approaches the victim in a public place, saying she has won the lottery but can't claim the prize because she entered the country illegally. The scammer asks the victim to withdraw money from the bank to show good faith, or to pay taxes on winnings. Sometimes the scammer calls via telephone and says the victim has won a big prize but needs to pay upfront for taxes before the prize can be delivered. 

Grandchildren in trouble. A crying young person calls, saying he or she has been arrested or in an accident in another country and needs money to get out of jail. The connection is bad, so the grandparent thinks it is really a grandchild. They send the money. They don't verify that their grandson is away at college. Sometimes a senior will receive an email claiming friends and relatives have been robbed in another country and need money to get home. 

Investment fraud and exploitation. Seniors are frequently offered an educational free lunch, which is really a sales presentation. No investment should be entered into without significant investigation, and that includes investigating the person offering to sell you the product. Seniors must be careful of cold calls from people who introduce themselves as investment advisors, or of investments with high returns or any scheme that promises guaranteed returns. Seniors with substantial assets should cultivate a relationship with a trusted financial advisor who has been vetted thoroughly and is known to their friends and relatives. 

Power of attorney. Thousands of seniors have lost the contents of their bank accounts, and even their homes, by giving power of attorney to someone untrustworthy. 

ID theft. Someone calls and claims to be from Medicare, their bank, the IRS, their insurance company or another business entity, then they proceed to ask for credit card numbers or other personal information. Seniors must learn to never give personal information over the phone unless they initiated the call.

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