It is an unfortunate fact that, more than any other demographic, seniors are the target of scams. This is due to several reasons. By and large, retirees have more savings at their disposal than other groups, making them particularly attractive to scammers. They also have more age-associated memory or cognitive troubles, which often means they will be much more susceptible to fraud. In addition, many elders may not realize how to report scams, or may not even want to out of fear their family will think they can no longer handle their own affairs.
This is why it is important to be aware of the most common elder scams. Knowing these can help you and your loved one stay more informed and protect your family from fraud.
1. Telemarketing and phone scams
This is one of the most common ways scammers defraud the elderly. They might pose as a salesperson pushing an enticing new product or as a charity soliciting urgent donations. This scam takes advantage of the anonymity of a phone call and the victim’s susceptibility to a confusing — and time sensitive — offer. Because this type of fraud usually has no paper trail and does not take place in person, it can be very difficult to trace.
2. Sweepstakes and lottery scams
This type of scam tricks its victims into believing that they have won a large cash prize or some other offer, such as a vacation or car. In order to claim this prize, however, the scammer will tell them that they need to make a payment first. In some cases, the scammer may even send their victim a fake check, then try to collect fees for “processing payments” or “taxes.”
3. Medicare and health insurance scams
Seniors are often very concerned about their health, and this scam takes advantage of this. For instance, in a “rolling lab” scam, unnecessary and sometimes even fake tests are administered, then billed to the victim’s insurance company. They may even be charged for equipment they were told was free, or for services they never received.
Since most people over the age of 65 automatically qualify for Medicare, it is also easy for scammers to obtain their personal information, then use it to perpetrate a scheme similar to those described above.
4. Counterfeit prescription drug scams
Prescription drugs can often be a very expensive necessity for seniors with health ailments. Because of this, as well as the rise of online markets for prescription drugs, this scam has become increasingly common in recent years. It is dangerous not only because it can rob its victims of money, but also because it can place their health in danger by giving them ineffective, or even unsafe, substances.
5. Internet fraud
Although the Internet has become an increasingly ubiquitous presence in our daily lives, many elderly are still learning how to use it. This lack of knowledge can make them easy targets for the variety of forms that Internet fraud takes. For example, phishing scams can steal their credit card information, fake anti-virus software and “ransomware” can hijack their computers, and untrustworthy websites may take their cash without delivering what they ordered.
6. Funeral scams
Despite their considerable expense, many people are unaware of all the costs associated with funerals, and may not realize that they are being scammed. Disreputable funeral homes may overcharge customers or bill them for unnecessary services, such as insisting that a casket is required for a direct cremation. They may also try to add additional cancellation or transportation fees that are against the law.
7. Investment schemes
Even if they have substantial savings, many seniors worry about having enough money to provide for their family after they are gone. Investment schemes take advantage of this anxiety by promising large returns at very little risk, but then will disappear once they have received their payment. Infamous schemes include pyramid schemes (such as Bernie Madoff’s), prime bank note schemes, and Nigerian letter fraud.
8. Reverse-mortgage scams
Reverse mortgages, so-called because the lender pays the homeowner in return for equity, have become very popular in recent years. And, since they often own property, seniors are the usual target of many reverse-mortgage scams. Posing as professionals, scammers offer seniors a free house or cash in exchange for equity from their property. In some cases, the scammer may also try to use them as a straw buyer when illegally flipping a property.
9. Fraudulent anti-aging products
Similar to scams associated with prescription drugs, fraudulent anti-aging and beauty products often promise prices and results that are too good to be true. Elders concerned with their appearance need to be wary of anyone peddling treatments or medications with unrealistic claims. Although they sound appealing, these products may not work, and can even come with unwanted side effects.
10. The grandparent scam
In this scam, a victim gets a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild. In order to assume this identity, they will ask an open-ended question, such as “Do you know who this is?” If the grandparent answers with the name of one of their grandchildren, the scammer will assume that identity and request money to pay for some urgent expense, such as rent or a mortgage, imploring them not to tell their parents. This is a simple and surprisingly effective form of fraud since it involves very little work on the part of the scammer.
In order to stop fraud, it is not only important to become aware of how it is committed, but also to report it. While it can unfortunately be difficult to reclaim any money lost in a scam, you can still help catch the person or group of people that took advantage of you.
Organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission are good places to call, as are credit reporting agencies like Experian and Equifax. The AARP has a comprehensive list of agencies to contact when you have become a victim of fraud.
Seniorly is the trusted resource for comprehensive information on all things senior living. If you are concerned about financial planning for the future and would like to speak to a Seniorly Team member about care options for your loved ones, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our on-staff gerontologist and family coordinators can help you find what you’re looking for, or direct you to other trustworthy resources in your area. Visit www.seniorly.com or call us at (415) 570-4370 today; our aging experts are here to answer any questions you may have.