The older people get, the more vulnerable they become to fraud. According to the Federal Bureau Investigation, people who grew up in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s were generally raised to be polite and trusting — making them appealing targets for scammers. Elder abuse is an understudied subject and national statistics on crimes against seniors are mostly outdated. But a 2011 study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates that the elderly lose approximately US$2.9 billion annually as a result of financial abuse — from con artists as well as family members.
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to scams because they are more likely to feel lonely, have probably accumulated a fair amount of wealth, and are less critical in their decision making. Protect yourself or your loved one by watching out for these 10 scams, which target seniors:
1. Anti-aging Or Product Scams
Some seniors who want to look younger might purchase products to conceal wrinkles — something fraudsters may try to take advantage of by offering fraudulent products. The anti-aging product might be made of completely bogus materials. The scammer might offer free products (with credit card data and the promise it won’t be charged) or send an email asking a senior to sign up to receive the merchandise, which won’t ever be delivered.
The con artist might sell the elder a product that’s heavily boxed and when he or she gets home it might just contain a rock. Another fraud scammers might try is charging excessively for products that are important to the elder such as hearing aids.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Make sure you are purchasing merchandise from a reputable source.
  • Do your homework on the individual or company to ensure that they are legitimate.
  • Obtain a physical address rather than simply a post office box and a telephone number, and call the seller to see if the telephone number is correct and working.
2. Charity Scams
Seniors might be more willing to donate to charity, but sometimes those nonprofits are fake. Scammers might create a fraudulent charity that’s similar in name to a legitimate nonprofit and choose causes, like child welfare, that will appeal to seniors. For instance, a fraudster might try to get a senior to donate to a charity that will help kids of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Always ask for and wait until you receive written material about any offer or charity. If you get brochures about costly investments, ask someone whose financial advice you trust to review them. But, unfortunately, beware — not everything written down is true.
  • Before you give money to a charity or make an investment, find out what percentage of the money is paid in commissions and what percentage actually goes to the charity or investment.
  • Before you send money, ask yourself a simple question. “What guarantee do I really have that this solicitor will use my money in the manner we agreed upon?”
3. Funeral And Cemetery Scams
Seniors in the twilight of their lives might think about planning for their death by purchasing a casket or setting money aside to pay for funeral fees. But some scammers might try to take advantage of grieving widows or widowers who have to plan a funeral. Fraudsters might try to collect money from the deceased relatives or a funeral home might try to hide fees or add unnecessary charges to a bill. Funeral directors might even push the family members to buy a casket to perform a direction cremation, which can be done with a cardboard casket instead.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Be an informed consumer. Take time to call and shop around before making a purchase. Take a friend with you who may offer some perspective to help make difficult decisions. Funeral homes are required to provide detailed general price lists over the telephone or in writing.
  • Carefully read all contracts and purchasing agreements before signing and make certain that all of your requirements have been put in writing.
  • Educate yourself fully about caskets before you buy one, and understand that caskets are not required for direct cremations.
4. Health Scams
A scammer might pose as a Medicare representative to in order to gain the trust of a senior and get them to share personal information. Fraudsters might also try to take advantage of elders who use a bunch of prescription drugs — offering a deep discount in exchange for a membership fee or credit card number to join a club. But the medication is never delivered or it’s not what was promised.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Use caution when purchasing drugs on the Internet. Do not purchase medications from unlicensed online distributors or those who sell medications without a prescription. Reputable online pharmacies will have a seal of approval called the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site (VIPPS), provided by the Association of Boards of Pharmacy in the United States.
  • Be aware that product promotions or cost reductions and other “special deals” may be associated with counterfeit product promotion.
  • Consult your pharmacist or physician if your prescription drug looks suspicious.
5. Help Scams
Gullible seniors might fall victim to a scam artist posing as someone who needs help. He or she might pretend to be in a dire situation or have a child who desperately needs financial help. The con artist will play on the emotions of the senior to swindle him or her out of money.
In other instances, the scammer might wait around for an elder and offer to help them in some way — through offering to carry groceries, help fix a problem in their car, etc. — and then demand cash for the help. Or the scam artist might offer to help an elder fix his or her home, and demand an upfront payment. But the work they perform might be shoddy and then reveal that there’s a more serious problem — requiring more money.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Do not respond to unsolicited advertisements.
  • Never respond to an offer you don’t understand thoroughly.
  • As a general rule governing all of your interactions as a consumer, do not allow yourself to be pressured into making purchases, signing contracts, or committing funds. These decisions are yours and yours alone.
6. Home Scams
Some fraudsters might send letters to seniors regarding their loan documents and request money in order to receive copies of important paperwork. Similarly, victims of a property tax scam might receive a letter from what looks like the county assessor, offering to reassess the property’s value — for a fee.
Others scammers might try to charge seniors for information about a reverse mortgage — a home loan that provides cash payments based on home equity. Some con artists might even advertise free homes or refinance help to lure unsuspecting victims.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Be suspicious of anyone claiming that you can own a home with no down payment.
  • Do not accept payment from individuals for a home you did not purchase.
  • Seek out your own reverse mortgage counselor.
7. Internet And Email Scams
The elderly are more likely to be unfamiliar with the web and its risks, which makes them a prime target for scheming fraudsters. As more senior citizens become more digitally connected, there’s a risk that they will fall prey to schemes like sending money to a stranger because of a plea via email or handing out personal information without much thought. A senior might even receive an email from what appears to be a legitimate institution, but is actually a schemer.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as Nigerian or foreign government officials asking for your help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
  • Do not believe the promise of large sums of money for your cooperation.
  • Guard your account information carefully.
8. Investment Scams
In retirement, seniors might seek out new investment opportunities to help increase their nest eggs. That makes the elderly particularly susceptible to fraudulent investment opportunities that might drain them of all their hard-earned money. Fraudsters might also target seniors who are planning for retirement and looking to safeguard their cash for their golden years. From investing in fake businesses to fraudulent complex financial products, there are many schemes that could harm you.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Don’t invest in anything you are not absolutely sure about. Do your homework on the investment and the company to ensure that they are legitimate.
  • Be cautious when responding to special investment offers, especially through unsolicited e-mail.
  • Inquire about all the terms and conditions.
9. Lottery Or Prize Scams
Carefully worded documents notifying seniors that they have won the lottery or sweepstakes with instructions on how to collect the prize — such as paying for processing fees or sharing personal data — might be a sign of a scam. Seniors might even be sent a fake check while the criminal collects the money the duped citizen has sent. These types of scams play on the emotions of seniors. Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Don’t pay for a “free prize.” If a caller tells you the payment is for taxes, he or she is violating federal law.
  • Watch out for these phrases:
  • “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
  • “You’ve won a ‘free’ gift, vacation, or prize.” But you have to pay for “postage and handling” or other charges.
  • “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.” You may hear this before you have had a chance to consider the offer carefully.
  • “You don’t need to check out the company with anyone.” The callers say you do not need to speak to anyone including your family, lawyer, accountant, local Better Business Bureau, or consumer protection agency.
  • “You don’t need any written information about their company or their references.”
  • “You can’t afford to miss this ‘high-profit, no-risk’ offer.”
10. Telephone And Telemarketing Scams
Because seniors are more likely to be at home during the day, they’re prone to receive calls from telemarketers. Schemers might try to get lonely seniors to divulge personal information over the phone. They might offer deals or fake prizes to get the elderly to share their credit or bank account information — pressuring him or her to act fast. Or the con artist might pretend to be a friend of someone the elder knows and say he or she is in the hospital and needs money. A scammer might even try to pretend to be the elder’s grandchild and ask for money.
Tips for help from the FBI:
  • Always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, state attorney general, the National Fraud Information Center, or other watchdog groups. Unfortunately, not all bad businesses can be identified through these organizations.
  • Always take your time making a decision. Legitimate companies won’t pressure you to make a snap decision.
  • Never send money or give out personal information such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, bank account numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers to unfamiliar companies or unknown persons.
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