Seniors grew up in a more polite time. They’re more likely to talk to strangers, they’re less likely to hang up on people, and they are often home during the day to answer their phones, making them tempting targets for fraud. Seniors over the age of 60 are the target of 49% of telemarketing scams involving medical care services and products, 41% of scams involving sweepstakes and prizes, and 40% of scams involving magazine sales. Unfortunately, it’s hard to spot it when it’s happening. Fraud can come at seniors in a variety of different ways: through the phone, mail, internet, and even in person.
Grandparent Scams target seniors by calling up, pretending to be a grandchild, and admitting that they’re in distress and need money to get out of a tight spot. Scammers may claim to be in jail and need bail money, to have had an accident, or simply to have ended up away from home without the gas to get back.
- Fake Check Scams ask individuals to deposit a check, then send money to another location. Unfortunately, the check is fake, and ultimately, the bank wants their money returned. Alternatively, criminals will gain access to a seniors blank or canceled check and then proceed to siphon funds out of the seniors account—especially if checks do not incorporate security features that help combat counterfeiting and alteration.
- Medicare Scams get the senior’s Medicare number, then bill Medicare for high-dollar products—all while providing inexpensive substitutes to the senior who genuinely needed that product.
- Bogus Charities call up and solicit donations for foundations and charities that aren’t really charities at all. In many cases, they don’t even exist.
- “You Have Won” Calls and Mail solicit personal information, including account details or requiring a “small payment” in order to collect the winnings.
- Living Trust Scams aim to convince people to create unnecessary living trusts, offering promises that they never follow through on. In many cases, callers will try to convince seniors to act immediately so they don’t have time to think it through.
- Imposter Scams work much like grandparent scams: they convince a senior that the individual on the other end of the phone is a loved one and ask them to send money.
- Advance Fee Scams promise high levels of rewards—either goods or services—in exchange for a “small” up-front fee.
- Phishing Scams ask users to “update” their personal information, thus providing that information to people who can then steal their identities or account information.
- Cashier’s Check Scams use fake cashier’s checks to pay for goods.
- Door-to-Door Solicitations force seniors to make snap decisions about overpriced services or goods, often those that won’t really be provided.
- “Free Lunch” Seminars offer unsolicited, often unethical or illegal investments that are designed to part seniors from their money.
- Chain Letter Scams offer “get rich quick” opportunities that are really designed only to take money from gullible seniors and other individuals.
- Bank Scams are aimed at convincing seniors to provide bank account information to scammers. Seniors may also be asked to take a “friend” to the bank to cash a check, only to discover that the check wasn’t real and the money disappears from their account.
- Work-at-Home Scams indicate that they will provide seniors the opportunity to make some money while they work from home. Unfortunately, they have huge start-up costs and little reward.
- Home Improvement Scams tell seniors that they will complete work around the house, but never finish the job or offer shoddy work and low-cost materials.
- Investment Fraud convinces seniors that their assets are being invested when really, they’re disappearing.
- Medical Equipment and Quackery Scams offer seniors “medical equipment” or other remedies that ultimately accomplish exactly nothing.
- Nigerian Schemes are classic offers: “Send me this much money so that I can complete X task, and then I will make you rich for helping me.”
- Business Opportunity Scams offer investment opportunities that really offer the senior no return on their effort or money.
Avoiding These Scams
People who wish to avoid scams can follow several simple tips:
- First, never give away personal information. This includes checking out companies and their offers with the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau before sending money. Credit card and checking account numbers should never be offered to other people, and your social security number should remain confidential. If you’re going to donate to a charity, take the time to make sure that it’s legitimate first. It can be useful to use independent sources to verify information from anyone who has reached out to you.
- Next, never deposit or cash a check for anyone. Non-cash payments like checks, money orders, etc. should be verified by either calling the bank where the check was issued or asking your bank teller to verify its authenticity before depositing. Check to make sure that there is nothing on the check to create a flag for fraudulent activity before accepting it.
- It’s also critical to avoid making snap decisions. If an offer is “limited time” and seems too good to be true, it probably is! If you’re being pressured to make an immediate decision, walk away. No legitimate opportunity is going to expire if you don’t make a decision on the spot. Keep in mind that con artists will attempt to create a false sense of urgency and a need for secrecy. High emotions are more likely to lead to poor decisions. If you’re getting a call from someone you think is a loved one, make sure to verify their identity: ask something only they would know, reference inside jokes, or refuse to keep their secret, insisting that you’ll need to share their story.
- Keep an eye on “confidentiality.” If you’ve been told not to discuss the offer with anyone else, it’s probably a scam. Con artists know that when you consult with someone you trust, they’ll be found out. Always take the time to discuss an offer with friends or relatives if you aren’t sure about it.
- Never pay a premium in advance. Handling charges and taxes shouldn’t be part of your responsibilities on winning a prize or being invited to participate in a business opportunity. Don’t accept work-at-home opportunities that require money in advance or wire transfers. If you don’t remember putting your name in for a contest, realize that you didn’t win it.
- Finally, get it in writing. This is especially important if you don’t understand what’s being asked of you or if the details seem murky. Scammers will be reluctant to commit their so-called promises to paper, which you can reference later and show to other people.
Scammers are eager to get their hands on any bank account they can. With education and prevention efforts, however, you can keep yourself safe. Take control and protect yourself and your loved ones by knowing what’s out there and how to avoid it.