We’ve discussed scams, fraud, and crimes against older adults and the elderly in the past, but today we’re going to share valuable resources that will help you either be more prepared, or give you the next step if you do fall victim to it. Seniors are commonly targeted because they tend to own their homes and have strong credit and ample savings. They’re also less likely to report fraud and tend to be less familiar with technology. Consequently, they are a favorite mark for fraudsters.
Seniors lose more money by far to scams than any other demographic, with the median loss totaling $390, the Better Business Bureau found. This year may see new scams introduced or old scams revised, but one thing is certain: Dishonest people are working hard to separate older Americans from their money. Here’s what to look out for, and links to helpful resources on the subjects.
What to look out for: Scams often start with unsolicited phone calls offering products aimed at easing a person’s fears. Calls like these were at the heart of a case where a company contacted seniors (even those listed on the National Do Not Call Registry) to hawk medical-alert pendants. The company shipped products without receiving an order and then threatened legal action or verbally abused seniors who didn’t pay.
Risks: Victims lose the cost of the product and could be exposed to identity theft.
Helpful resources: The Federal Trade Commission takes complaints about shady companies.
Fake Prizes and Sweepstakes
What to look out for: Another scam that often starts with an email or phone call, this one relies on a sense of hope rather than fear. Victims are told they’ve won a lottery or other large prize, but first they must transfer money to cover the accompanying taxes and fees.
Risks: Victims face the loss of those funds, and identity theft is also a risk.
Helpful resources: The FTC maintains a web page specifically about prize scams.
Health Insurance Fraud
What to look out for: Mobile “health-care labs” are sometimes parked at retirement homes, malls, or health clubs, and fake or unnecessary tests are administered on “patients” whose identifying information is then used to bill insurance companies and Medicare. Similar rackets involving unneeded medical equipment also target seniors.
Risks: Often directed at the elderly by perpetrators who leverage the term “Medicare,” this scam seeks personal information and could expose seniors to identity theft.
Helpful resources: The government maintains a dedicated web page on Medicare fraud.
The Grandchild Hook
What to look out for: In the “grandparent scam,” crooks call seniors claiming to be a grandchild who has run into financial or legal difficulties and is in jail. The scammer begs the targeted senior not to tell the grandchild’s parents and to wire money to a bail bondsman.
Risks: Victims forfeit not just the money but critical personal and financial data.
Helpful resources: AARP offers tips to help seniors beat this scam.
What to look out for: Some scammers sell fake products that promise youthful vibrancy, or breakthrough treatments that have no side effects. These items may be harmless sugar pills that hurt only the victim’s wallet, but others, such as fake Botox, can cause temporary paralysis or other physical harm.
Risks: People lose money on fake products, but this kind of scam, as well as those selling cheap counterfeit prescription drugs, could also lead to serious illness or injury.
Helpful resources: The Food and Drug Administration maintains a web page dedicated to medication health fraud.
“Too Good to Be True” Investments
What to look out for: Pyramid, Ponzi, or advance-fee schemes, as well as the now infamous “419” fraud, all fall into this category. In the 419 scam, a foreign national (often a “Nigerian prince”) requests money and finagles access to personal and financial data with the lure of sharing his immense wealth. Advance-fee schemes typically involve the sale of a product or service or arranging a so-called profitable venture in exchange for a finder’s fee.
Risks: Once the fee is paid, the scammer disappears. Identity theft is also a risk.
Helpful resources: AARP’s ElderWatch offers advice on recognizing and reporting fraud.
If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a scam there are local resources you can turn to, including the police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts), and Adult Protective Services. There’s also helpful information available at StopFraud.gov.