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Defrauding The Elderly: 9 Scams Targeting Seniors

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Updated August 22, 2022 – It’s sad but true: there are people out there who will take advantage of the elderly. They might do this by scamming them out of their money, or by convincing them to sign over their property.

It’s important to be aware of senior scams, so that you can protect yourself or your loved ones from becoming victims.

Why are scammers defrauding the elderly? There are a few reasons why older adults may be targeted by scams. For one, an elderly person may be more likely to have money saved up than younger people. Additionally, scams targeting older people often prey on the fact that many seniors are trusting and less likely to suspect foul play. Finally, some scams specifically target senior citizens because they may be more likely to have health problems that make them vulnerable.

Because seniors are very often the target for a con artist, the number of scams aimed at defrauding seniors and the elderly are plenty.

Americans over the age of 50 who are either lonely or dissatisfied with their personal relationships are more likely to fall for financial scams, according to the findings of a study from researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, which was published in the journal Aging & Mental Health.

fastcompany.com

In addition to identity theft and online scams such as a tech support scam and phishing scams, there are some phone scams and mail scams in use today.

How Much Money Do Seniors Lose To Scams Each Year?

According to Consumer Affairs, more than 3.5 million seniors in the United States lose more than $3 billion to scammers over the course of a year.

The average loss is estimated to be around $34,200 per senior (this number could be even higher, as many seniors are embarrassed to report having been scammed and don’t contact authorities).

Surprisingly, millennials are the most likely to be taken in by scams due to the undue influence of social media platforms, however the elderly population isn’t far behind. They just become a victim of financial fraud in a different way.

Although elderly victims fall prey to several types of common scams, scam phone calls and mail fraud are the ones that seem to fool seniors the most.

For instance, criminals can create online scams where they promise a free gift or prize if the visitor signs up, but these are fake promotions, and the personal information that the victim provides can be used to take out fraudulent loans. For that reason, you must keep a watchful eye and educate your loved ones whenever possible.

theworldbeast.com
 

Here Are The Top 10 Scams Aimed At Older Adults

1. Healthcare Scams

In a healthcare scam, elderly people will get a phone call saying something like they need a new Medicare card or health insurance card in order to get medical care.

Or they may be told there is a discount on their insurance if they act on the phone call immediately.

Then, the con artist will go on to ask for date of birth and/or the social security number or will tell you they have this information and can you please tell it to them so they can verify it.

How To Avoid The Healthcare Scam

First, you should NEVER give out your bank account, credit card information, social security number, etc. to anyone who calls YOU.

So, the best thing to do is to hang up and then call the company the caller said they were representing.

If you initiate the call then you know that you are contacting the company itself.

I often will put the caller’s phone number into my internet browser or do a Google search on the phone number and, many times, it will come up as a reported scam phone number.

2. Medical Alert Robocalls

Robocallers are certainly annoying, but sometimes they can be terrifying, too. As I just mentioned in the section above, how many times have you gotten a call claiming to be from a loan company, the Internal Revenue Service, or even the FBI?

Many adults know these calls are fake, but trusting seniors might not.

These medical alert robocalls tell the senior they could get a personal medical alert system for free, says The Senior List.

Sometimes, the scammer will take it a step further by mentioning that the senior could also receive something else – say, grocery coupons valued up to a $1,000.

That’s a tough offer for seniors on a fixed income to turn down, and so, many seniors jump at the chance to get something for free.

The Senior List goes on to mention that this scam began sometime in 2018 and, sadly, still seems to be running strong.

How To Avoid The Medical Alert Robocall Scam

The best thing to do is to never answer the phone and simply let it go to voicemail. Then check that voicemail immediately afterwards.

Of course – I know this is very difficult for many older adults.

So, the next best thing to do is to NEVER give out any information to anyone you do not know. Instead, take down their name and phone number (although you will not be using their phone number).

Then, look up the phone number for the company they claim to be representing (DO NOT simply call the number the caller gave you!).

You will likely find that either the company doesn’t exist or their actual phone number is different than the one you were given.

Lastly, call the number you just verified and speak to someone there.

3. Spam Call From Senior Benefits Companies

Besides the Grandparent Scam, seniors are also susceptible to a common scam by con artists pretending to be calling from a senior benefits companies.

To illustrate, lately we’ve gotten several phone messages at our house, informing us that we need to return the call because there has been an error in our Social Security benefits.

I know this is a scam because no one in my house is at the age where we can collect Social Security, but you can see how a trusting senior might think the call is legitimate.

By dialing from different numbers at all hours of the day or night and leaving messages like this, a scammer can scare the senior into answering or returning the phone call.

Once they have the senior on the line, the scammer asks for sensitive information pertaining to the elder’s pension or benefits.

If they can get info like the senior’s credit card info or other financial details, they surely will as well.

How To Avoid These Scam Phone Calls

As I mentioned above – the simplest solution is to not answer the phone but if you must then DO NOT give out any information, no matter how official they may sound.

Instead, take down their information and then call the company that they say they are representing and speak to a person there.

4. Phony Company Representatives At Your Door

In addition to getting phone calls from fake representatives there are also con artists who go door to door claiming they represent a specific company.

This scam works very well with security companies because most of us put out the “This home is secured by … ” sign so that’s a clear invitation to a scammer who knows you are using that company’s services.

The con artist can gain access to your home, rob you or worse. Or they can just gather information from you that they should not have.

Here’s a great little video from Ackerman Security on this very issue.

How To Avoid Fake Door To Door Scam Artists

First and foremost, you should NEVER open the door for someone you do not know. Even if they are wearing a shirt or badge that seems to be from a company.

You also should NEVER avoid answering the door if you are home. Reason being that if the person intends to break in – if they think you are not home – they may just go ahead and try to break in.

Best thing to do is to ask them to leave their information or to ask them to wait while you call the company they are supposedly representing to find out if they have representatives in your area.

5. Scams On Siri, Alexa and Google Home

The newest scam practice now involve the use of voice activated devices such as Siri, Alexa and Google Home.

This is how it works:

  • A user asks their device to search for a business to call them
  • The scammers have paid to promote fake business entries for that business
  • Alexa or Google Home or Siri then calls the fake phone number thinking it’s the valid one
  • The scammers then ask for remote access to your computer, direct you to a fake website, talk you into purchasing special promotional gift cards, etc.

Google and Amazon are working to stop this type of scam but of course, it all takes time.

“These scammers use a wide range of deceptive techniques to try to game our system,” Ethan Russell, product director for Google Maps acknowledged at the time. “As we shut them down, they change their techniques, and the cycle continues.” – Forbes.com

How To Avoid Being Scammed By A Voice Search

The simple solution is to avoid using these devices to make the phone call for you.

You can ask for the phone number, then type that phone number into your search engine and see if it matches the phone number for the business.

Or you can simply search for that business in your search engine and get the phone number that way.

If you use or anticipate to use this business often I would recommend to go ahead and put them in your list of contacts.

That way, the next time you want to call them you can ask your device to call them directly from your address book.

6. Charity Scams

Being conned to donate money to a fake charity is an old scam that is still being used effectively today.

It’s sad to say, but these often pop up after a tragic event and/or a major disaster such as a hurricane or bombing, etc.

The scam can begin with a phone call, an email, snail mail or any other form of solicitation.

How To Avoid Charity Scams

Before you write that check to donate any money to any charity – check to ensure that it is a legit organization by validating it on these sites:

7. Funeral and Cemetery Scams

Scammers and con artists have little to no morals so they can, without guilt, try to scam older adults in any venue – including a funeral of their loved one. In fact, this is so prevalent, that the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) in the USA has information about it on their website.

There are a few scams having to do with funerals and cemeteries…

  • Funeral homes can perpetrate the scams by overcharging for services and/or products – it’s easy to take advantage of most anyone when they are in an emotional state.
  • Funeral homes that require full payment upfront.
  • Scammers will attend the funeral and approach the grieving spouse with the claim that the deceased owed them money (which of course is not true).
  • Surviving family members may receive a phone call or email advising them there is an unpaid balance owed for the funeral and/or cemetery.
  • Donation programs set up to help pay for a baby’s funeral. This could come in the form of an email or phone call or you might even see a jar at your local store collecting dollars.

How To Avoid Funeral and Cemetery Scams

Believe me when I tell you that when you are grieving or emotional, you do not make the best decisions!

So, before you plunk down any money for any type of charity – follow these two rules that I learned after making some bad decisions after my husband passed away.

  • wait 3 or 4 days to think it over
  • talk to as many friends and family as you can about the decision you are considering making

This should help you to avoid being taken.

8. Pandemic Senior Citizen Scams

Since the rise of covid-19, there are a few types of fraud that have been circulating related to the coronavirus pandemic.

In one, a company claims under false pretenses that they have a products that is scientifically proven to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Since Covid is known to affect an older person more than a younger one, you can imagine how many older Americans jumped at the chance to get this “treatment”.

In an action regarding counterfeit websites, the FTC sued the unknown operators of numerous websites, which played on consumers’ COVID-19 pandemic fears to trick them into paying for Clorox and Lysol products that the defendants never delivered.”

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

There have also been scams related to buying face masks or other supplies that turned out to be fake or counterfeit products.

9. Romance Scams Targeting Seniors

There has been an unfortunate trend of romance scams being targeted towards the elderly. This is a type of fraud where someone pretends to be interested in a romantic relationship with an older person, in order to gain their trust and eventually steal their money.

Some of the hardest and most painful scams for families are the ones involving romance, where people use fake identities to prey on lonely and isolated people.

aarp.org

These scams can be difficult to spot, as the fraudsters are often very convincing. They may spend weeks or months building up a relationship with their target, before asking for money.

They may also create a false sense of urgency, telling their victim that they need the money for medical expenses or to pay off debts.

If you are an older person who is looking for love online, it is important to be aware of this scam. Be suspicious of anyone who asks for money, no matter how well you think you know them.

Never send money to someone you have not met in person. If you are unsure about someone, you can always ask a friend or family member for their opinion.

If you think you may have been a victim of this scam, please contact your local police department.

10. Financial Institution Scam

This is a tricky one. If a scammer finds out what financial institution(s) you deal with, they can work their tricks to get your information and then steal your money.

They can find out this information if they hack into your email, if they hack into your computer at a public place where you are using public wifi, they can also simply steal the mail right out of your mailbox!

Not only can they steal your money, they can also begin sending you information as if they are the financial institution in the hopes that you will respond to the email or text or even mail.

How To Avoid Financial Institution Scams

Anytime you receive any form of information (text, phone call, mail or email) from your financial institution, do not provide that source with any information. Instead, find out why they are calling and then hang up.

Then call your institution yourself and advise them that you just received a phone call about that specific topic and would like to make sure that it’s not a scam.

What Are Some Steps That Seniors Can Take To Avoid Being Scammed?

There are a few things that an elder person can do to protect themselves from scams.

First, they should never give out personal information like their social security number or credit card number over the phone or online.

They should also be wary of unsolicited calls or emails asking for money. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Finally, seniors can talk to their family and friends about scams so that they can be on the lookout for anything suspicious.

Robin’s Tip: I might also add that it is wise for adult children to check in with their senior parents frequently about their financial decisions.

If possible, have regular conversations about scams and how to avoid them. Remember, too, that cognitive impairments obviously can increase the chances of elderly individuals becoming potential victims of fraud.

For example, my dad had very mild dementia. He and I had a joint account that he paid bills from, so I could spot suspicious activity right away.

We also had an agreement that he would ask me about ANY mail he got that solicited money, before acting on it.

We had the same plan for phone calls that he received (he screened the calls on his answering machine and waited for me to visit and listen to them. Then we decided together whether it was legitimate (99.5 percent weren’t!)

Lastly, if you think that you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam, contact your local law enforcement agencies to file a criminal complaint. You should also call the National Elder Fraud Hotline or the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-FTC-HELP) .

Also, if credit cards are involved, you should report the activity to the senior’s financial institution.

Final Thoughts

In addition to these types of swindles there are also many that occur online such as romance scams, lottery scams, and technical support scams.

Sadly, these are just some of the scams that are prevalent today targeting older adults.

The best way to protect yourself is to assume that any notification you receive from an unknown source is a scam. Then investigate it and do not take any action until you have been assured by reliable sources that whatever they are asking of you, is true.

One resource we can recommend is Money Smart – which is a resource guide to help older adults and caregivers to “…prevent, recognize, and report financial exploitation.

Another is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau where you can submit a complaint about a financial product or service.

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