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Consumers can’t rely on businesses to keep them to completely safe. Here are some practical steps you can take to reduce the chances of falling victim to fraudsters in 2021.
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Top scams targeting the senior community in 2020
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), below are the top scams that are wreaking havoc in the senior community.
1. Medicare/health insurance fraud
PROBLEM: Scammers have targeted seniors for numerous rip-offs surrounding the Affordable Care Act and Medicare enrollment. Since every U.S. citizen over the age of 65 qualifies for Medicare benefits, seniors are an easy target for medical scams, because criminals don’t have to do any research around their insurance provider.
Many of these scams operate via door-to-door or over-the-phone solicitations by someone claiming to be a Medicare representative. Here are some ways to spot a medical scam targeting a senior:
SOLUTION: When in doubt, just hang up the phone or shut the door on the person trying to get money from you.
2. Counterfeit prescription drugs
PROBLEM: Many older people may be looking for cheaper drug alternatives as a way to save money on a fixed income. The problem is that scammers prey on this vulnerability of wanting to save.
The Internet is the most common way criminals operate these scams — offering ‘better prices’ on specialized medication, which can not only be fake, but also end up being harmful to the person if they take an unknown substance.
SOLUTION: Be very cautious when ordering medication online and make sure to talk to your loved ones about the dangers of doing so. Here are more tips about what to look for when buying medications online. Also, check out these 4 ways to save money on prescriptions.
3. Funeral & cemetery scams
PROBLEM: Funeral and cemetery scams have been around for years. The FBI warns about two main types that are targeted toward seniors:
1. Criminals will read obituaries and either call or attend the funeral service of someone they don’t know just to take advantage of someone there who’s grieving. The scammer will then claim the deceased had an outstanding debt with them in an effort to get money from relatives to ‘settle’ that fake debt.
2. Unfortunately, there are dishonest funeral homes out there that prey on grieving families by capitalizing on their unfamiliarity with the cost of funeral services in order to get more money from them. How it often works is someone at the funeral home adds unnecessary charges by insisting on extra features, such as the most expensive casket.
SOLUTION: Do some research before agreeing to anything suggested by the funeral home. Also, if your elderly loved one has a friend or other family member pass away, make sure to check on them and monitor their finances to make sure they don’t fall victim to a scam like this.
4. Fake anti-aging or products targeting pain reduction or elimination
PROBLEM: If you watch a lot of late-night TV, which seniors often do, you’ll notice all the commercials about products that claim to be the perfect solution to signs of aging or other unwanted physical changes.
According to the NCOA, seniors often feel the need to look younger in order to keep up in social circles or to fill some other void in their life. This leads them to seek out new treatments, medications and other remedies — making them vulnerable to scammers who capitalize on this demand. These scams operate in a variety of ways, including offering very expensive treatments that turn out to be harmful or very expensive homeopathic remedies that actually do nothing (except take your money).
SOLUTION: When monitoring your loved one’s finances, look for purchases of these types of remedies or treatments, which you may also find when you visit their home. Talk to them about the dangers of these products, and also just increasing the frequency of your visits may help them avoid these situations.
5. Phone scams
PROBLEM: Scammers use several types of phone scams to prey on seniors. Here are a few to watch out for:
SOLUTION: Here are a few ways to avoid phone scams:
6. Mail scams
PROBLEM: Scammers use several types of mail scams to prey on seniors. Here are a few to watch out for:
SOLUTION: Here are a few ways to avoid mail scams:
7. Internet fraud – reports have shown that the Senior community needs increased online security protection & preparedness/information
PROBLEM: Microsoft has put out special consumer alerts to warn about bogus computer security engineers making cold calls to convince people their computers are at risk for a security threat.
The phonies offer a free security check over the phone in an effort to get you to give them remote access to your computer for a supposed diagnosis and fix. Once they have remote access, they will download software to your computer that basically allows them to steal money from your accounts.
A Microsoft survey conducted in the English-speaking world (this is not just limited to the United States) found that 15% of people have gotten a call from these scammers at one time or another.
Eight in 10 of those who allowed remote access of their computers had money stolen. One in five became identity theft victims. Finally, more than half of all people who allowed remote access got hit with viruses that fouled up their computers. Very often, the cost of repair was greater than the money stolen.
SOLUTION: Microsoft offers a few recommendations to stay out of harm’s way. First, be suspicious of unsolicited calls from supposed computer security experts. Second, don’t visit any sites or install software recommended by unsolicited callers.
BONUS TIP: Seniors often fall victim to a variety of Internet scams, including fake virus protection pop-ups and fake emails. Warn your loved one about the dangers of clicking on any unknown links or emails. Do not click on any link in any email you were not expecting. If there’s a question and you think there’s a legitimate message or notification intended for you, go directly to the official website of whatever business it is and check for any notifications there. Also, you can protect their computer by downloading virus protection on it for them.
8. Investment/timeshare winner/schemes
PROBLEM: Buying a timeshare is bad enough of a rip-off. But imagine getting ripped off twice or three times by crooks promising to help you resell your timeshare!
The crooks typically ask for money upfront for advertising, title searches, and other administrative fees. You may even be told you’ll get your money back if your timeshare isn’t sold in 90 days. That’s a big, fat lie. You won’t get anything back except a lighter wallet.
SOLUTION: Here’s the real truth. Anyone promising you more than a few pennies on the dollar of what you paid is lying. Remember, salespeople should receive commissions at the time of the sale, not a second before.
9. Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams
PROBLEM: Seniors who live alone in their own homes are cautioned to be wary of ‘woodchucks’ — fake home contractors who gain their confidence and then charge huge amounts of money for unnecessary work.
These con men usually have some level of handyman skills and will start the relationship by offering to do a benign job such as gutter cleaning. But after they finish that job, they’ll find other imaginary problems — such as a roof or chimney repair — and convince seniors to fork over thousands of dollars.
Woodchucks also love to target people who have failing memories. In some of their most disgusting offenses, they’ll even drive old women to banks and get them to cash bogus checks before disappearing with the funds.
Police expect the woodchuck phenomenon to worsen. After all, we’re an aging population and we no longer live geographically close to our families as we did a few generations ago.
SOLUTION: Pick up the phone and call your aging relatives — or go visit them — to make sure they’re not falling prey to woodchucks. Be nosy if you’re worried that their money may be in danger. With a parent, there’ll be a natural inclination for them to not want to talk to you about money. But you’ve got to be pushy.
Mortgage/reverse mortgage scams
PROBLEM: According to the NCOA, scammers are preying on senior homeowners by offering a property assessment on the value of their home. They find the public information on the home, and then send the homeowner an official looking letter that offers to assess the value of the home for a fee. This is of course just a ruse to get that ‘fee’ money.
As reverse mortgages have increased in popularity, scammers are taking advantage of seniors with fake offers. According to the NCOA, ‘unsecured reverse mortgages can lead property owners to lose their homes when the perpetrators offer money or a free house somewhere else in exchange for the title to the property.’
SOLUTION: Monitor all of your loved one’s important financial and asset information closely. If you are worried, they could fall victim to a scam like this, you may need to take control of their power to make decisions involving their finances, investments, assets etc.
10. Sweepstakes & lottery scams
PROBLEM: Seniors get a call saying they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes of some kind, but they need to either pay money or divulge sensitive account information to claim the winnings.
With the lottery scams, a senior’s savings are not eroded all at once. Once they take the bait and send some money in, they’re put on the sucker list. That marks them to receive future calls or solicitations about other alleged lottery winnings. It’s known as a ‘reload scam,’ and it can play out in areas other than just fake lottery winnings.
Another way these scams unfold is a criminal will send the person a fake check to deposit, and during the period it takes for the check to get rejected, the scammer collects money from the senior for ‘fees’ or ‘taxes’ on the supposed prize. Then they’re out of that money, and of course, no money is deposited from that fake check.
SOLUTION: Warn your loved ones about these scams and that they should NEVER hand over money for a ‘prize’ or to anyone that they (or you) do not know.
11. The grandparent/lost relative scam
PROBLEM: Crooks call senior citizens and impersonate their adult grandchildren in order to hit them up for money. Here’s how a typical conversation might go:
The phone rings and the senior picks up…
Scamster: (in a low tone) Grandma?
Senior: Is that you, Jimmy?
Scamster: Yes, it’s me and I’m in trouble. I’m in jail. I need you to wire money so I can get out.
The typical take on this scam is anywhere between $3,000 and $4,000. There’s even a ‘reload’ on this one. If the scamster gets money, they’ll have another person call up impersonating a police officer and ask for additional funds in order for their grandchild to be released. They claim there are extra charges for property damage. Once the money is taken, you’ll never see it again.
SOLUTION: Never give out personal info over the phone or send money to unknown sources through a wire service.
12. The charity scam
PROBLEM: Charity Scams: Charity scammers take advantage of disasters and tragedies by pretending to be legitimate. Imposters create fake organizations mimicking real ones to entice the generosity of those affected emotionally.
SOLUTION: Warn your friends, community and loved ones about fake charity scams and that they should NEVER hand over money for a to anyone that they (or you) do not know.
13. The romance scam
PROBLEM: Romance Scams: The Senior community is at an increased risk for the romance scam as many of them are widowed, single or do not have any family or family that is not close in proximity. Finding companionship and love online can be a double-edged sword if you’re not careful. It can be someone who lives near you or someone posing as a doctor or military officer stationed far away. Be aware that people can create fake profiles on dating and social media sites in an attempt to find a match and convince you to help financially. In extreme cases, these scammers may look to have the senior sign over paperwork to them, write them checks for “work” they do or “help” they provide to the senior when in fact, there is no service being provided.
SOLUTION: Warn your friends and loved ones about predators targeting the senior community and that they should NEVER hand over money or hire someone to help them, sign up for dating or companionship websites without assistance, or having another person look over the information first.
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