Treats, not Tricks: Avoiding Elder Scams

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Seniors are often targeted by con artists. Scams are most often conducted through the phone, mail, or internet.

The FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the United States Justice Department, and many local law enforcement groups have all made statements about seniors being targeted for scams. Women over 60 who live alone are particularly susceptible.

In recent years, con artists have taken advantage of a number of older Americans by scamming seniors. Realizing that many seniors have money but little knowledge of technology or current scams, criminals see opportunity. You can help protect seniors by sharing information with them about common senior-targeting scams.

Many scams targeting seniors are carried out over the phone. These are the most common to watch out for:

Health

  • Health insurance scams requesting personal information
  • Health insurance scams offering or requesting money
  • Medical equipment telemarketing
  • Medicare billing calls
  • Telemarketers claiming Medicare covers their services or products
  • Blank health forms requiring signatures

Charity

  • Telemarketers requesting financial information over the phone
  • Claims that unfamiliar local charities need funds
  • Requests to support individuals or invest in new charities
  • Requests for contributions in cash, wire transfers, or gift cards

Home Goods & Services

  • Contractors who have not been requested
  • Service personnel claiming to be sent by a utility company without prior notice
  • Contracts without refund, cancellation, or other legal details
  • Providers looking to install equipment without prior request
  • Anyone who asks for money before work is completed

IRS & Service Provider Scams

  • Phone calls supposedly from the IRS requesting information or money
  • Tax or service related mail asking for a signature or money besides regular bills
  • Offers or winnings for contests or lotteries seniors have not entered
  • In-person visits without prior notice from supposed collection agents
  • “Bank” or “bank card” requests for personal or financial account information

Digital/Online Scams:

  • Emails claiming someone is in danger or needs ransom
  • Emails that say “RE:” but are not replies to emails seniors have sent
  • Emails about goods or services “purchased” that have not been purchased
  • Pop-ups that claim ransom or software is needed to unlock the computer
  • Offers for tech support or protection software from unfamiliar companies
  • Emails supposedly from known providers or companies that are not “.com” or that look unprofessional
  • Services offered by unknown entities, including “tax accountants” that are unfamiliar
  • Offers or winnings emailed or in a pop-up that seniors did not sign up for

The coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a new wave of fraud, some old tricks, and some new:

  • Online sales for items that never arrive – not only does the “company” now have your money, they also have your credit card information
  • Strange texts, phone calls, emails from organizations purporting to have important information for you about the pandemic
  • Isolation has driven many online to seek companionship; be very wary of supposed “romantic interests” that want to text or “chat” online with you many times a day – especially when they suddenly need money for some crisis
  • Pitches for quack coronavirus “preventions” and “cures” – click here for the FTC’s guidance
  • Fake contact tracer calls asking for payment, Social Security or Medicare numbers, financial information, or any other official personal identification information

These scams are not merely inconvenient, they can be costly. According to the AARP, the 10 most costly scams targeting seniors are:

  1. Romance Scams $83.7 million
  2. Imposter: Government: $61 million
  3. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries: $51.4 million
  4. Imposter: Business: $34.3 million
  5. Investments: $25.4 million
  6. Computer Tech Support Scams: $24.1 million
  7. Timeshare Sales: $17.4 million
  8. Imposter: Family/Friends: $17.1 million
  9. Online Shopping: $14.2 million
  10. Timeshare Resales: $12.5 million

How can you protect yourself or your senior loved ones with all of these “bad actors” out to trick elders out of the money? Some recommendations include encouraging seniors to:

  • Allow loved ones to be involved in their finances
  • Ask a trusted loved one about any requests for personal or financial information
  • Require written documentation before agreeing to a contract or giving away information
  • Ask for a certified letter when government agencies call
  • Never hire someone or allow someone inside if they are going to door-to-door
  • Refuse to make on-the-spot decisions, ask for contact information instead
  • Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry 1 (888) 382-1222
  • Verify with known representatives using official provider numbers when receiving calls on the provider’s behalf

Family caregivers are also advised to develop a list of the names, numbers, and email addresses of seniors’ utilities, insurance, and other finance-related providers. Urge seniors to contact those designated provider representatives using the list instead of discussing legal or financial matters with people who call them. Make sure they understand that the IRS does not call people regarding taxes, they send information via mail. If someone calls them purporting to be from a provider, they should simply tell them they can’t talk now, hang up, and contact the organization directly.

Sources: ClearCare, AgingCare, AARP, Federal Trade Commission