This is the first post in our Senior Scams Blog Series. Stay tuned for a new installment each month!
Today’s interconnected high tech world has created a boon for criminals looking to defraud the elderly out of some or all of their life savings, often with impunity. My own circle of family and friends have fallen victim to some of these scams.
Criminals can get easy and legal access to seniors by purchasing sophisticated phone and email lists with targeted demographics broken down by age, income and zip code. Computerized “robo calling” makes connecting with unsuspecting targets less time consuming, less expensive and therefore more lucrative. Using these tools criminals cajole, befriend, scare or confuse elders into giving them access to their personal information and money.
Unfortunately, though, the old fashioned “high touch” contact with elders by those they deem trustworthy – their caregivers and family – is still the most prevalent form of senior scamming today.
Be aware of these 8 major categories of how people scam seniors:
1. Theft by Family and Friends
It’s called “Financial Elder Abuse” when a close family member or trusted paid caregiver gets access to savings and checking accounts, forges signatures to cash in insurance policies, or uses the elder’s personal information to open credit cards in their name. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is reported. According to a Consumer Reports article, guesstimates of the cost of elder financial abuse range anywhere from 3 to 36 billion (yes, Billion) dollars a year!
2. Identity Theft
Criminals have success getting seniors to share their personal information, such as their social security number and bank account or credit card information by pretending to be from their bank, their health insurance company, Medicare, the IRS, and others. With this valuable information in hand, scammers then have access to deplete bank accounts and open up credit cards in the person’s name.
3. Telemarketing Scams
There are so many phone scams. These two are very popular currently: the grandparent scam and fake charities. We’ve all heard of the grandparent scheme. My friend’s 85-year-old mother received a call from her grandson “Kevin” claiming he was in trouble and needed funds wired immediately. The scam is so sophisticated now that callers often have the correct name of a grandchild. Luckily my friend’s Mom didn’t fall for it, but so many seniors have. Fake charity scams were huge in the last few years because they surge after natural disasters when criminals try to take advantage of the generosity of taxpayers who want to help victims of major hurricanes or other weather-related events. Other fake charities my Mom receives calls from constantly claim to be veteran and police related organizations.
4. Tax Fraud
There are so many creative tax-related scams that bilk consumers of all ages that the IRS publishes an annual list called “The Dirty Dozen” – the worst of the worst tax schemes. The most well known is the angry IRS agent calling to inform you that you owe tax money and demanding you make a payment immediately over the phone by giving him your credit card or bank account information. The flip scam is that they pretend you are owed a refund. Don’t fall for it! The real IRS never calls or emails; they only mail notices.
5. Healthcare Related Fraud
Scam artists try to convince seniors that they will research and recommend the best health insurance options or get them qualified to receive Medicare, even though Medicare is available to everyone over the age of 65. Scammers also pose as Medicare representatives to get seniors’ personal information. Counterfeit prescription drugs that seniors buy on the internet when trying to find lower-cost medications also fall into this category. In addition to being ripped off, bad drugs clearly can have negative health consequences.
6. Internet Fraud
Seniors are easy targets for automated “phishing” email scams. These used to be the easy-to-spot Nigerian prince asking for money. These days they look like official emails from legitimate companies, banks, or even the IRS, asking the senior to verify their personal information. Seniors are also vulnerable to web-based scams while surfing the internet. One scam that’s been around for years involves a pop-up for a fake anti-virus software that fools victims into downloading and paying for it. This actually happened to my husband several years ago! We contacted our bank and got the charges reversed and also had to get a computer consultant to do a real anti-virus scan.
7. Sweepstake and Lottery Scams
A couple years ago this scam was simply a way to gather information from a senior gullible enough to send in their name, address and phone number for a sweepstake or prize so they could be contacted and scammed later. These days scammers inform seniors that they are the lucky winner of a sweepstakes promotion and even send them a check they can deposit in their bank account, knowing it will take a few days before the fraudulent check bounces. Within those few days, the criminals quickly collect money for supposed fees or taxes on the prize. Believe it or not, my sister-in-law’s father gave a scammer his bank account information so they could directly deposit his prize. They stole $7,000. He contacted his kids who called the bank, recovered the money, and changed his bank account. The criminal was so brazen that she called back the following week and “admitted” she meant to deposit money but took it out instead, and if he gave her his new bank account information she would put that money back in and make the deposit this time!
8. Unsolicited Work on an Elder’s Home
This actually happened to a friend of mine who isn’t a senior. She was scared when a man showed up at her door and pushed his way inside the house insisting he could clean her dirty gutters for cheap. Rather than have an ugly confrontation, she said yes and paid him in advance just to get him out of her house. He walked away with the cash.